The temperatures have finally cooled enough for fall colors to arrive in the garden, and berries on trees are turning red, black or purple. Fall berries help sustain birds through winter, but also make the landscape more interesting, particularly when perennials are dormant and leaves have gone from trees.
Holly is the most common berry in the area, and holly trees come in many different shapes and sizes. The one thing they all have in common is that most need a male and female shrub to get the pretty berries. The names of the varieties sometimes help decide which holly is compatible with another, such as Blue Prince and Blue Princess. Other varieties are labelled M or F. In general, one male plant is sufficient to produce berries on as many as 10 female plants. If your holly does not produce berries, this is the usual reason and by checking when the flowers on your shrub arrive, you can track down a variety that blooms at the same time. Nellie Stevens is a newer variety that claims to be self-fertilizing but still produces more with a compatible male variety.
Another berry-producing shrub is the beautyberry (Callicarpa), which produces wonderful purple berries each fall. This shrub enjoys being under trees or a semi shady location and grows to about eight feet so it fits into most gardens. The overall shape is a vase shape with small, almost insignificant white flowers in summer. So, this makes a quiet, back-of-the-border shrub behind summer perennials.
Euonymus americanus, also known as Hearts a’Bustin, is a native to the Southeast and although not an attractive shrub, it produces interesting red seeds in late summer that the birds love. Again, the shrub prefers the back of the border and some shade in summer.
Interesting berries can be found on some shrubs and trees that are known more for their flowers, such as crape myrtles, some roses and some viburnums.
Berries are also found on a few invasive shrubs, such as the Nandina domestica and Burning Bush, which both produce lots of colorful berries full of viable seeds. Some newer varieties are on the market that claim to produce sterile seeds, and may be worth trying.
Most berries remain on the shrubs well into winter and can be used to decorate fall/winter wreaths as well.
Having plants with berries ripening in fall brings birds to the garden as well as being attractive to look at. They are not necessarily safe to eat.