How to Plant, Grow, and Care for Winterberry Holly

Are you searching for a shrub that will instantly beautify your winter gardens? Look no further than the winterberry holly. In this article, gardening expert Jill Drago will detail everything you need to know to plant, grow, and care for winterberry hollies.

A close-up of red winterberries glistening in the warm sunlight, showcasing their glossy, rounded shapes. The brilliant crimson hue of the berries contrasts beautifully with the deep green, oblong leaves.


Winterberry hollies are beautiful shrubs all year long. These multi-stemmed shrubs have a beautiful upright growth habit, making slipping them into many different parts of our gardens easy. 

Winterberry holly are beautiful native plants that have many uses in our gardens. From lush and glossy green leaves to bright red or orange berries, this shrub has it all. 

If you want to grow some winterberry holly in your garden, read on! I will get into all of the details you need to plant, grow, and care for winterberry holly successfully.

Winterberry Holly Plant Overview

A close-up of vibrant red winterberries neatly arranged along a slender stem, glistening in the sunlight. The lush, scarlet colors and elegant arrangement of these winterberries make them a captivating natural spectacle in the winter landscape.
Plant Type Deciduous Shrub 
Family Aquifoliaceae
Genus Ilex
Species verticillata 
Native Area North America 
Exposure Full sun to partial shade 
Height 3-15 feet
Watering Requirements Moderate to high 
Pests & Diseases Low 
Maintenance Low
Soil Type Clay or Loam
Hardiness Zone 3-9













What Is It?

Winterberry gets its name from its brightly colored berries that appear and last throughout winter. Native to North America, the bark and roots of this shrub were used medicinally by Native Americans to treat various ailments. An old nickname for winterberry was “fever bush,” which it earned from the successful treatment of a wide range of diseases


Branches of the winterberry holly bush are heavily laden with clusters of vibrant red winterberries. These luscious red berries add a pop of color and provide a vital food source for wildlife during the colder months.
Winterberry holly requires both male and female plants for pollination.

Winterberry is in the holly, or Ilex, genus. Unlike many other hollies, however, winterberry is a deciduous shrub, which means it will drop its leaves in the cooler months. The classically beautiful red berries of the holly genus are present in winterberry, providing tons of winter interest for your garden. 

The foliage of winterberry hollies is deep green with toothed leaves. In the late spring and early summer, these shrubs will produce tiny white flowers, later transforming into beautiful berries. Depending on which winterberry variety you select, the leaves will take on autumn color in shades of purple, orange, or bronze.  

There is one very important thing to remember if you want to add winterberry to your garden. These shrubs are dioecious, meaning you will need to plant both a male and a female winterberry for pollination to occur.

Without pollination, there will be no flowering and, you guessed it, no berries. Selecting a male and female winterberry may seem complicated. Luckily, most garden centers will have plant tags with all the necessary information, but if you’re uncertain, ask for assistance in selecting a partner plant.

Native Area

A winterberry holly bush showcasing its red fruits and glossy green leaves, glistening in the sunlight. The leaves and red berries of the winterberry holly create a beautiful contrast, bringing a touch of seasonal charm to the garden.
The plant thrives in various soil types but shows stress if not adequately watered.

Winterberry holly is native to North America. It grows nicely in most soil types and tolerates dry and moist conditions. These shrubs will show signs of stress if left to dry out for lengthy periods. 


Winterberry hollies do not have any special requirements when planting them in your garden beds. 


In a serene autumn landscape, the branches of a winterberry holly bush stand bare, with only a few resilient leaves and berries. The blurred background subtly unveils surrounding grasses, adding depth to the natural setting.
Varieties of winterberry shrubs come in various container sizes, including balled-and-burlapped options.

While selecting your winterberry shrubs at the garden center, you may find them in different-sized containers, as bare root plants, and even balled-and-burlapped

  1. Dig a hole about twice as deep and as wide as the rootball of your winterberry. 
  2. Remove the container or the burlap and inspect the rootball for any potbound roots. If you notice that the roots are potbound, use your hands to break the roots apart gently. This will help ensure that the roots can take up water and nutrients while also helping them establish themselves strongly in the soil. 
  3. Position the winterberry in your freshly dug hole, ensuring the plant crown is even with the soil level.
  4. Backfill with your garden soil, packing it down gently.
  5. Water! These shrubs do not like to dry out, and it is crucial in these early weeks that the soil remains moist. 

How to Grow

This shrub is easy to grow and very easy to care for. Let’s look at what you must do to grow the best winterberry holly possible. 


Bright red winterberries clings to their slender stems, set against a backdrop of lush, green leaves. These plump, crimson jewels glisten in the warm embrace of the golden sunlight.
Winterberry hollies require a minimum of six hours of direct sunlight.

Winterberry grows well in full sun to partial shade. For the maximum amount of berries, situate your winterberry in an area of your garden where it receives at least six hours of direct sunlight. 


A winterberry branch is adorned with an abundance of vibrant green leaves, their surfaces glistening with droplets of water. Nestled among the leaves, a cluster of bright red berries adds a striking contrast.
They require consistent moisture and are unsuitable for dry climates without frequent watering.

Winterberry grows best in moist soil. Like many other plants, winterberry needs at least one inch of water per week through rainfall or irrigation.

Do not allow these shrubs to dry out. Growing winterberry in dry climates is not advisable unless you are prepared to supplementally water regularly. 


A woman wearing floral gardening gloves and bright yellow rubber boots is carefully cradling a white bowl filled with soil. She's about to release the earthy treasure onto the ground. In the foreground, a sturdy trowel stands upright.
These hollies thrive in acidic soil but struggle in neutral to alkaline soils.

Hollies, in general, grow best in acidic soil, and winterberry hollies are no different. In addition to the acidity, these shrubs will grow well in heavy or light soils. Winterberry that grows in neutral to alkaline soils will suffer from chlorosis or yellowing of the leaves. 

If you are still determining your soil pH, grab a pH test from a garden center or get a full-blown soil test. 

Amend your soil as needed. In the case of winterberry, using a fertilizer for acid-loving plants will likely do the trick. 

Temperature and Humidity

A close-up of a winterberry stem with red berries in a frosty coating, capturing the essence of a frigid winter morning. The frozen leaves add a delicate, crystalline touch, showcasing nature's resilience in the face of cold.
Winterberries thrive in zones 3-9, but avoid planting them in dry areas.

Winterberry hollies are hardy in zones 3-9. These shrubs will typically grow nicely in these zones and tolerate most conditions. Be wary of planting winterberries in dry areas because these shrubs do not love arid conditions; similarly, be prepared to provide some shade during peak summer heat, if possible.


A blue-gloved hand firmly grips a paper bag. The bag is brimming with pristine white granules of fertilizer, ready for gardening or farming. The background is a pleasant blur of lush green leaves, providing a tranquil and natural setting.
Applying acid-loving plant fertilizer in spring and fall promotes healthy winterberries with vibrant foliage.

Using a basic fertilizer on your winterberries is a great way to boost their health. Using a fertilizer that is specifically for acid-loving plants is even better. This will ensure that the shrubs can take up all the nutrients they receive from the fertilizer and the soil. 

Apply fertilizer once in the spring and again early in the fall. This will result in healthy new growth and dark green and glossy leaves. 


Winterberry branches in the warm December sunlight, adorned with an abundance of red berries. The blurred background reveals a picturesque landscape, showcasing additional winterberry shrubs, each adorned with their own clusters of plump red berries.
Winterberry should be pruned in late winter or early spring.

Winterberry is a relatively low-maintenance plant. The flowers, which will make way for the show-stopping berries, form on new growth.

Any pruning you must do should be done in late winter or early spring before any new growth appears. Winterberry is a vigorous grower and should be pruned to maintain size and shape. 

  • Using sharp shears, begin by pruning some of the oldest branches down to the ground. 
  • To maintain shape and size, remove no more than ⅓ of the branches in one year. This will make sure the plant has ample time to recover. 


Propagating winterberries is easiest when done with stem cuttings. You will only need some shears, a container filled with soil, and the cutting itself. 


Several bare winterberry branches stretch out, adorned with clusters of vibrant red berries. The stark, leafless twigs contrast beautifully against the abundance of crimson berries, a picturesque sight against the winter landscape.
Late spring to mid-summer is ideal for winterberry stem cuttings.

Before you begin propagating, it is always a great idea to gather all of your supplies

  1. Anytime from late spring to mid-summer is a great time to take stem cuttings from your winterberry. 
  2. Using clean and sharp shears, clip cuttings from a branch of a female winterberry that produced berries last season. These cuttings should be about two inches in length. 
  3. Strip all lower sets of leaves from the branch, leaving the top pair intact. 
  4. If you wish, dip your cutting into rooting hormone. 
  5. Place cutting into moist potting soil.
  6. Cover your pot with a plastic bag to create a greenhouse effect. 
  7. Place your pot in a bright area with indirect sunlight. Keep the soil moist. 
  8. In about one month, your cutting should have produced roots. Your winterberry will be ready to plant in your garden when autumn arrives. 

There are plenty of beautifully cultivated winterberry options on the market. Remember the shrub’s size, the berries’ color, and the best partner plant for your female or male winterberry. 

Berry Heavy 

In a radiant garden, branches of berry heavy laden with plump, orange berries soak up the warm, golden sunlight, creating a stunning contrast against the blurred backdrop of lush greenery. The ripe fruits shine, promising a delightful harvest.
‘Berry Heavy’ winterberry holly is a prolific shrub ideal for privacy screens.
botanical-name botanical name Ilex verticillata ‘Berry Heavy’
sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun to partial shade
height height 6-8 feet 
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 3-9

The name of this winterberry is the perfect description of this shrub. ‘Berry Heavy’ produces many berries, arguably more than any other winterberry

This large winterberry holly would make an excellent privacy screen or back border of a large foundation garden. Plant ‘Berry Heavy’ with a male variety such as ‘Mr. Poppins’.

Berry Poppins

Intertwined red berry poppins stems create a captivating natural spectacle. The sheer abundance of these crimson jewels elicits a sense of bountiful nature's generosity, promising a rich harvest and a feast for both the eyes and the taste buds.
This variety is a dwarf winterberry with large, bright red berries.
botanical-name botanical name Ilex verticillata ‘FarrowBPop’
sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun to partial shade
height height 3-4 feet 
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 3-9

If you are searching for a smaller or dwarf winterberry, ‘Berry Poppins’ is a great option. Its very large berries are bright red and prominent throughout the winter months.

During the growing season, the leaves of this shrub are dark green and toothed. Plant with ‘Mr Poppins’ to enhance the production of berries. 

Little Goblin 

In a serene setting beneath the boundless, azure sky, a charming little goblin winterberry shrub stands out. This delightful shrub, resplendent with crimson berries, adds a pop of color to the landscape.
‘Little Goblin’ series offers red and orange dwarf winterberries ideal for containers.
botanical-name botanical name Ilex verticillata ‘Little Goblin’
sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun to partial shade
height height 3-5 feet 
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 3-9

The ‘Little Goblin’ series has both a red and an orange option. These are smaller or dwarf-sized winterberries, which are great for containers or low-growing hedges. These winterberries also need to be planted with male winterberries. Give ‘Little Goblin Guy’ a try. 

Red Sprite 

In a dimly lit garden, a red sprite winterberry holly shrub stands, its branches adorned with a sparse cluster of red berries. This small, ornamental shrub adds a touch of festive elegance to the winter landscape.
This winterberry variety has deep green leaves and bright red berries.
botanical-name botanical name Ilex verticillata ‘Red Sprite’
sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun to partial shade
height height 3-5 feet 
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 3-9

‘Red Sprite’ is a beautiful variety of winterberry. The leaves are deep green throughout the season. Once the leaves drop, this shrub will be covered in bright red berries.

Growing up to five feet tall, ‘Red Sprite’ makes a lovely hedge or addition to the back border of a foundation garden. Plant with a male winterberry such as ‘Jim Dandy’

Winter Gold 

A close-up reveals the intricate beauty of a winter gold winterberry stem. Clusters of frozen orange berries cling to the branches. The delicate, frozen leaves complete this wintery masterpiece.
‘Winter Gold’ grows tall with pinkish-orange berries and dark green leaves.
botanical-name botanical name Ilex verticillata ‘Winter Gold’
sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun to partial shade
height height 5-8 feet 
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 3-9

This variety of winterberry grows quite tall, up to eight feet, producing pinkish-orange berries instead of the classic red you may be accustomed to. The dark green leaves are glossy and will turn a shade of bronze in the fall.  Plant this female variety with a male variety such as ‘Southern Gentleman.’ 

Common Problems

It’s hard to believe that there is a plant on the market as tolerant of pests and diseases as winterberry holly. But it is true! 


A close-up of red spider mites, reveals their bright crimson bodies as they congregate on delicate silk webbing meticulously woven across a green leaf. These minuscule pests showcase intricate patterns and textures against the leaf's surface.
Winterberry has high pest tolerance, primarily to mites and leafminers.

Winterberry has a very high tolerance to most garden pests. You may run into issues with mites or leafminers, but these insects can be prevented by good plant care and, if needed, can be treated with horticultural oil


A close-up of a brassica leaf revealing its prominent leaf spot, marked by a darker discoloration. In addition, there are several irregularly shaped holes scattered across the leaf's expanse.
Winterberry shrubs generally exhibit minimal susceptibility to diseases such as leaf spot or powdery mildew.

Like its resistance to pests, winterberry is rarely challenged by diseases. These shrubs have been known to have a few issues with leaf spot or powdery mildew. Luckily, these diseases are just aesthetic and will go away independently with a few slight changes from you.

  • Remember, these diseases will likely only last for one season.
  • Look at the winterberry growing conditions. Is it getting enough sun? Powdery mildew loves humid, shady areas of your garden. 
  • Check your watering practices. Leaf spot is a fungal disease. Although winterberry loves moist conditions, if you are splashing a lot of water onto the leaves of your shrubs, you could be causing the leaf spot. 
  • If you just can’t stand to see your winterberry looking less than its best, head to the garden center and grab some neem. This oil will take care of both of these diseases.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are winterberry hollies poisonous?

Yes! All parts of the winterberry holly are toxic to humans to some extent. This is confusing since the bark was once used medicinally. While the toxicity is only slight, it is best to avoid eating these plants. Plant winterberries where children will not be tempted to eat the bright red berries.

Can I grow winterberry indoors?

Yes, but not long-term. These shrubs are known as “gift plants,” or plants that you can purchase from a garden center that is in a beautiful pot grown specifically for a certain time of year. Many gift plants are forced in a greenhouse and will not have a high success rate growing outdoors. You can always give it a try, though! An option is planting it in an outdoor container and bringing that container indoors in the winter.

Why isn’t my winterberry producing berries?

There are two main reasons that your winterberry is not producing berries.

  1. You are only growing a male or female winterberry. These shrubs need both a male and a female for pollination to occur. You only need about one male shrub for every four or five females.
  2. You are pruning at the wrong time. These shrubs produce berries and flowers on new wood. Any pruning you do should be done in late spring or early winter. This will help to prevent the accidental snipping off of any buds.

Final Thoughts

Winterberry hollies are the perfect plant if you are seeking year-round interest. The leaves are typically glossy and deep green. Its berries are jewel-toned and prolific, covering the branches and feeding birds all winter. Winterberry is easy to care for and tolerates many growing conditions. Add a few to your foundation planting or woodland edge, or use it as a hedge!

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