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Paint Your Landscape | Winter 2006 Out Here Magazine

The common snowberry grows well in shade as well as sun and tolerates almost every soil type.

Offset winter's bleakness with bright berry plants

By John R. Shaffer
Photography by Mark Turner

Trees are bare and your landscape is looking a little colorless, but that doesn't mean your yard or garden has to become a winter wasteland. Indeed, berry plants can provide vibrant color during this frigid time of year.

Berry palettes range from bright reds and yellows to pale blue and white, so there is something to please everyone. Additionally, many berries will also attract a variety of birds to your garden.

Clearly, this isn't the time to plant them, but this is the best time to decide where they should be planted, come spring.

The American cranberry bush (Viburnum trilobum) is hardy to zone 3, where temperatures fall to 40 degrees below zero. It grows to a height of 10 to 12 feet tall. Although it sports red berries, some cultivars produce yellow berries. This shrub sprouts clusters of white flowers in the spring.

For an interesting contrast, plant arrowwood (Viburnum dentatum), which forms clusters of bluish-black berries. They are popular with birds and produce small white flowers in the spring. They are hardy to zone 2.

The common snowberry (Symphoricarpos albus), also known as Indian currant, is adorned with an interesting white berry. It grows 3 to 5 feet tall and is hardy to zone 3. This bush grows well in shade as well as sun and tolerates almost every soil type. Create a nice contrast by planting this with the coralberry (Symphoricarpos orbiculatus) shrub, which bears reddish-purple berries.

Consider planting cranberry cotoneaster (Cotoneaster apiculatus) if you are looking for an attention-grabbing ground cover. It is hardy to zone 4, where temperatures reach 30 below zero, and matures at a low 1 to 3 feet tall. This great ground cover explodes with red berries but displays tiny pink flowers in the spring.

Winterberry (Ilex verticillata) is hardy to zone 3 and grows 8 to 10 feet tall. The berries can be either red or yellow. If you love having birds in your garden in the winter, this will do the trick.

However, if you want to end with a colossal bearer of berries, eastern red cedar (Juniperus virginiana), with its vibrant powdery periwinkle blue berries, grows to a towering 40 to 50 feet tall. This tree is hardy to zone 3. The female trees parade these lovely berries, which are very popular with the birds.

These suggestions are not an exhaustive list, but merely a means to get you thinking about your landscape.

The important thing is to keep in mind that winter does not have to equate to a dreary garden devoid of excitement. With just a little bit of planning, your garden can be a vibrant and colorful winter wonderland.

John R. Shaffer is a master gardener with the Penn State Extension Office.