Now on stage: the winterberry holly, beautiful but underappreciated


February 03, 2002|By Dennis Bishop | Dennis Bishop,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Q. Winterberry hollies are very beautiful in the winter landscape. Why do they seem to be so rare in our landscapes?

A. I think there are several reasons for this. First, there is an abundance of evergreen hollies on the market that produce attractive red berries. Although the red fruits of the winterberry hollies (Ilex verticillata) are stunning, I expect they are passed over at the nursery because they are deciduous shrubs. Second, when homeowners do select deciduous shrubs, they pick them for their flowers and not their fruits. The flowers of winterberry holly have very little appeal. And third, most homeowners buy their landscape plants in spring or early summer and never see the beautiful fruits that winterberries produce in late fall. In short, winterberry is a great shrub that has been lost in the shuffle.

Q. I have been looking through catalogs for some good disease- resistant roses and have come across the term "shrub rose." What are shrub roses?

A. They are roses that can work like shrubs in the landscape. This distinguishes them from garden roses, which have been bred primarily for their floral characteristics and are typically planted in a garden area specifically prepared for roses.

Shrub roses might also be called landscape roses. In addition to having nice flowers, good shrub roses have sturdy canes and nice foliage. This makes them attractive both in and out of bloom.

Q. After a recent snow, we shoveled our walk and put down de-icing salts. Do these salts damage landscape plants and, if so, are some types more damaging than others?

A. There are several different types of de-icing salts that are sold at grocery stores, hardware stores and home centers. The two most common are sodium chloride (rock salt) and calcium chloride. Both can damage plants. Recent research on these salts indicates that sodium chloride causes more damage to plants than calcium chloride. As gardeners, we should consider alternatives. For example, we can sprinkle sand or sawdust on the walk after shoveling. Though they will not melt the ice, they do increase walking safety.


1. Shrub and other types of roses can be ordered bare root from a variety of regional and national nurseries. Order now while the selection is good.

2. The next time you are in a hardware store or home center, buy a bag of sand instead of salt. You will be ready to sand your walk after the next snow.

3. Consider adding some standard lighting to your light table. The combination of incandescent light and fluorescent light will provide a broader spectrum of light for your plants.

Dennis Bishop is an urban horticulture educator for the Baltimore office of the Maryland Cooperative Extension Services. If you have a gardening or pest problem, you can call the Home and Garden Information Center hot line (Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.) at 800-342-2507. You can also e-mail questions, order publications and diagnose plant problems by visiting the Web site / users / hgic.

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