Questions We’re Often Asked: Berry-Bearing Shrubs

By —— Bio and Archives--May 30, 2017

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Garden getting beyond you? Perennials overflowing? Expense of annuals increasing like weeds? Could be time to call in the shrubs! Not all tower over that tallest gardener. Indeed, a selection are more on the abbreviated size. Flowers in season would be nice. But berries to brighten the off-season, bring winter colour would be even better.

Surprisingly oft overlooked are the Cotoneaster. A form will be found for any size garden and to tolerate extreme winter climates. Most bear a profusion of small white flowers in late spring followed by long-lasting red fruit. ‘Bearberry Cotoneaster,’ C. dammeri, is a truly prostate species with the selection ‘Skogholm’ slightly taller and more vigorous. ‘Rockspray’ (C. horizontalis) is another dwarf form growing to a metre high but not quite so hardy. ‘Creeping Rockspray’ (C. adpressa) is hardier and slightly shorter. Taller and living up to its botanical designation is C. bulata ‘Floribunda,’ up to two metres high with mases of gorgeous red fruit on large clusters. ‘Hedge Cotoneaster’ (C. lucida), one of the hardiest, is good for just that, hedges and bears black fruit on two-metre-plus bushes.

Pyracantha, the appropriately labelled Firethorns, are sprawling shrubs. When grown against a fence or wall they will lean up it. No selections are reliable hardy outside milder areas of Canada such as costal. B.C. and southern Ontario. There any of the numerous forms of P. coccinea will delight

The ‘Buckhorn,’ Hippophae rhamnoides, is gaining popularity thanks to profuse clusters of edible orange berries. One tough customer, it tolerates even lakeside planting in winter. At other times of the year, the silver foliage offers an attractive contrast. Its main drawback is size—up to five metres tall. Commercially valued for its fruit, plantations of selected varieties exist in Ontario.

Like Cotoneaster, Viburnum is a diverse group of shrubs, many with attractive berries. Unfortunately, these are ultimately large, vigorous shrubs up to four metres in height. For those with space, old favourites are native ‘Highbush Cranberry,’ V. trilobum and its European cousin, V. opulus. Both are extremely winter-hardy with white flowers followed by long-lasting bunches of scarlet fruit.

Native ‘Snowberry,’ Symphoricarpos albus, attractiveness, apart from its white berries, is its suitability for shaded areas. The named species will grow to two metres but there are more compact selections. The closely related ‘Coralberry,’ S. x chenaultii, has pink fruit.

Another touch customer is the ‘Red Osier Dogwood,’ Cornus stolinifera, usually for its red winter twigs but that also has white berries. Guard those twigs against floral arrangement fanatics.

Unusual blue, edible berries are a feature of ‘Oregon Grape,’ Mahonia aquifolium. The yellow flowers burst forth in clusters, shown off by holly-like foliage. This is evergreen in milder areas but needs to be protected in light, wind-sheltered shade from winter winds elsewhere or it will become brown and unattractive.

For many years, ‘Barberries,’ Berberis, were banned thanks to many species being co-hosts of wheat rust disease. Now largely off this hate-list, many of these spiny specimens have again become available in recent years. Most are under two metres tall and bear unusual purple fruit. In Tudor times these were said to be candied and eaten as a delicacy.

One little catch when it comes to berry-bearing shrubs. A few are dioecious, or producing male and female flowers on separate plants. Berries will be born then only on female plants. As in life elsewhere, a single male can take care of two or more females. True, hermaphroditic plants are not unknown but space precludes pursuing this here. Check with garden centre for sexual selections.

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Wes Porter -- Bio and Archives | Comments

Wes Porter is a horticultural consultant and writer based in Toronto. Wes has over 40 years of experience in both temperate and tropical horticulture from three continents.

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