Garden Q&A: Winterberry cuttings beat seeds
By Jessica Walliser
Published: Saturday, Dec. 29, 2012, 8:04 p.m.
Q: Is it possible to get a winterberry to grow from seed? If so, how do I do it? If not, is there a different way to make more of them?
A: Winterberry ( Ilex verticillata) is a moderate-sized deciduous shrub that is native to North America. Many species of birds enjoy the bright red berries, and it's a great plant for water-logged soils; plus, it has very few insect or disease troubles.
Winterberries grow anywhere from 3 to 15 feet in height, depending on the variety, and most have beautiful red berries, though there are several cultivated varieties with yellow and orange berries. As with all species of holly, to get berries you'll need to plant one male specimen for every five or six females (males do not develop berries, but the pollen is necessary for fruit production on females).
It is possible to grow winterberries from seed, and, when growing in an undisturbed area, they will do this naturally. When the berries drop to the ground, they ferment and the seeds readily germinate. Various birds use the berries for food as well, dispersing the seeds as they go. You'll have to be a patient gardener, though, to grow winterberries from seed, as it will take many years for them to mature enough to bear fruits and even then, what if you end up with all male specimens? Plus, they have very hard seed coats and require a lengthy period of moist, cold conditions to break dormancy.
You'll have much better luck growing winterberries from stem or root cuttings. Plus, the plants will reach maturity and bear fruit far more quickly than growing from seed. And, as vegetative propagation by cuttings results in an exact clone of the mother plant, you'll know precisely whether the resulting plants are male or female.
Softwood stem cuttings are taken in late spring through mid-summer. Use a clean, sharp pruning shear to remove several 2- to 3-inch-long stem tips. Remove all but the uppermost pair of leaves, dip the lowest inch of each stem cutting into rooting hormone (available at your local garden center), and insert the cut end into a clean pot of new potting soil. After watering them in, cover the cutting, pot and all, with a plastic baggie to maintain high humidity until roots are formed. Water the cuttings when necessary, and tuck the pots under a shrub to keep them shaded. The baggie can come off in a month. They should be rooted and ready to plant that fall.
Alternatively, root cuttings can be taken in late fall/early winter by carefully digging up pencil-thick roots from a mother plant and cutting them off. Each root piece should be 2 inches long. Put each root cutting in its own pot of fresh potting soil, being sure to maintain its polarity (up-end-up and down-end-down). The pots can be sunk into the garden up to their rim and then mulched with a few inches of straw for the winter. Come spring, remove the mulch, pull out the pots and wait for the root cuttings to sprout.
Horticulturist Jessica Walliser co-hosts “The Organic Gardeners” at 7 a.m. Sundays on KDKA Radio. She is the author of several gardening books, including “Grow Organic” and “Good Bug, Bad Bug.” Her website is www.jessicawalliser.com.
Send your gardening or landscaping questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or The Good Earth, 503 Martindale St., 3rd Floor, D.L. Clark Building, Pittsburgh, PA 15212.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Garden Q&A: Firecracker vine OK for trellis?
- Three ejected after Pirates, Brewers brawl
- Starkey: Penguins’ arrogance astounding
- Egg decorating turns to fight, charges in Brookline, police say
- Cool chemistry: Programs at Springdale library take inspiration from late science professor
- Plum man revels in Keystone hall of fame induction
- Choral concerts planned in Dawson church
- Six NA students finalists in Musical Kids competition
- Bridge work planned for Route 68 in Brady’s Bend
- Hillside repairs to cost $35K more than expected
- Study to target pool use at Belmont Complex