tough year for winterberry, but what about birds?

ONE OF THE MAIN ATTRACTIONS HERE EACH WINTER, from a bird’s-eye point of view, are the many winterberry hollies massed around the periphery of the garden in groups as large as 20 shrubs each. But the scene from above this fall isn’t the usual come-hither mass of reds and oranges (like ‘Winter Gold,’ above), after a droughty season caused so many of the plants to abort their fruit before it ripened.

In nature, Ilex verticillata or winterberry hollies inhabit the edge of the woods or even wetlands—not typically choosing to make their home where they’d suffer extra-dry conditions like the ones this year.

Even with the occasional off year, I would not be without winterberries (or at least not intentionally). I hope the birds can make do with a quarter-crop, feasting instead on a bumper lot of crabapples and many seed-bearing things, from grasses to conifers. Fingers crossed.

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  1. terryk says:

    ‘Winter Gold’ is beautiful! and I also love all the varieties listed in your link of winterberry hollies. This is dangerous, I want them all! They look like jewels or candies in the penny candy store (remember them?). I know you have talked about massing them together in the garden. Are all the colors grouped together or scattered about?

    As the berries may not be enough this year will you need to supplement with bird food more? I asked a question but if you don’t mind, I’ll ask again (maybe you missed it as I tagged it onto an older post).

    The question is this, if feeding the birds with hulled sunflower seed, does it attract the unwanted to the feeder? By this I mean the wood rats. One year I had a thisle feeder and come spring a little something, other than a bird, was visiting. It came down FAST and I have not had the nerve to use one again.

    I’ll listen to the podcast en route home, my Monday evening treat.

    1. Margaret says:

      @Terry: I tend to put multiples of a particular holly and then multiples of another and then another…so not onesies, but adjacent masses.

      As for bird feed, yes it will attract all manner of rodents in certain circumstances. I am pretty diligent about such things and always have traps out (enclosed in boxes or under pots, etc.) to keep the mole/vole/mouse population down a bit, plus Jack the Demon Cat isn’t tolerant of other residents on his turf. But without those anti-rodent measures, it can happen. All part of the deal. :) Mostly here I am infested with chipmunks and squirrels, who adore the feeders. Ugh, but I leave them alone.

  2. Matt says:

    Ugh, you think you had it bad. I just planted three winterberry hollies last fall. This year’s summer was brutal for them. No matter how much I watered, I think one of them died.

  3. I have ALWAYS admired the Ilex-Winterberry, that is displayed in front of Windy Hill, in Great Barrington. BUT alas, I only have 3/4 acre, that is FULL, versus your 2 plus acres to plant on. At the end of a long day, working in the garden, I feel, for myself, LESS is MORE.

    Congratulations Margaret, on your photo in House Beautiful, a few months ago. I happened to see it, as I was flipping through the magazines at the market.

    1. Margaret says:

      Thanks, Fred, and so nice to see you — I hope your holidays are wonderful. (And PS, I got my first winterberry at Windy Hill, good call!)

  4. Maureen says:

    Hi Margaret, I planted three winterberry hollies this fall and didn’t get around to planting the male holly that they need. If I wait until next spring to plant it, is that enough time for the fall berries to develop?

  5. Maureen says:

    Hi Margaret, I planted a mass of winterberry hollies this fall and didn’t get around to planting the male holly that they need. If I wait until next spring to plant it, is that enough time for the fall berries to develop?

  6. terryk says:

    Thanks Margaret for getting back to me. I guess it would have helped to have more of these shrubs in the garden that they love vs the bird feeders. I do have an Ilex and two crab apples. I thought by this time the robins would have stripped them clean but I am happy they are still ‘in berry’. I have to add more shrubs for them.

    I listened to your podcast on the way home and I too could not access some of your old podcasts from RobinRadio. Glad going forth they will be archived.

    I also found 3 podcasts from the Roundtable (WMAC) (7/28/08, 7/29/08 & 7/30/08) and they too can’t be listened to in full. Anyway you can add them to your website?

  7. terryk says:

    I should have said that I have been trying to listen on my HTC EVO Sprint phone and it aborts on that yet your podcast from RobinRadio is find. I’m listening now on the home computer. I’ll keep you posted.

  8. terryk says:

    Well I was able to listen to the one you linked on the computer so I tried the phone again. Got further but still not a full episode. I guess in the big picture of life if is not one of the big problems. Enjoy Thanksgiving.

  9. Jayne says:

    Interesting about your winterberry hollies. I have a lot of China hollies, mostly males due to mistake when buying at big container store! But the one that is loaded is a very large pyramid shaped holly planted here before we bought the house. Think I knew the name at one point, but now that store of botanical Latin is overloaded in my head!
    I am feeding my birds hulled sunflower seeds – found a good source in Brewster for inexpensive seed. Still not cold enough to put out the suet cakes! Thanksgiving Blessings to you Margaret for your wonderful blog!

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