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By Trey Pitsenberger, co-owner Golden Gecko

Now that winter has laid bare our gardens of leaf and flower the interest of the showy fruiting plants captures our eye. When we speak of fruiting plants we are not necessarily talking about fruit that is or is not edible by man, but rather shrubs and trees with interesting, colorful berries. During the cold dark days of winter these fruiting plants provide birds with an important source of food and provide us with a cheerful reminder that winter in our gardens is subtle yet beautiful.

Driving through the hills and canyons you will see one of our most noticeable native plants with berries, the Toyon or Christmas berry (Heteromeles arbutifolia). This native shrub or small tree dots the landscape with 2 to 4 inch long, glossy green leaves on a plant that grows to 6-10 feet as a shrub or 15 feet in a tree. It remains almost unnoticed until fall and winter when it is covered with small pea-sized bright red berries that the birds love. It grows best in full to part sun, and can be quite drought resistant in the wild. Planted in our gardens it will tolerate moderate water and will produce even more berries than in the wild. Trimming every year helps to produce more young wood that will produce even more berries.

Heavenly Bamboo (Nandina domestica), while not related to true bamboo, has a bamboo like appearance with its lacy-looking foliage, and fine texture. Growing in sun or some shade it is quite tolerant of drought while also adapting well to regular watering and garden conditions. Nandina has many useful varieties that are readily available at most garden centers. These varieties include dwarf types as well as varieties that are noted for the intense fall coloration of the leaves. None of these varieties produce berries that I know of. The berries are only produced on the species when one or more plants are placed in the garden. These berries are shinny red and popular in winter bouquets. Be sure if you want the berries you buy Nandina domestica and not one of the named varieties.

Pyracantha is grown mainly for it spectacular display of pea sized fruit in the fall and winter. Pyrancantha is available in groundcover types like ‘Tiny Tim’ to tall growing varieties like ‘Victory’. Grow pyracantha in the full sun, and moderate water. Do not over water as they are subject to a disease called fireblight. Birds will eat the berries and get quite drunk. I still remember birds eating the berries at the home I grew up in. I would watch these birds attacking their reflection in the shinny hubcaps of my parent’s car. The ping-ping-ping of their beaks tapping on the metal is ingrained in my memory.

While pyracantha has beautiful berries it also possesses sharp thorns. I find cotoneaster a great substitute. Cotoneaster is available in the same range of sizes as pyracantha, but produces no thorns. It is quite drought tolerant and looks best with little or no maintenance. Berries are usually red or orange and produced in profusion. Grow cotoneaster in full sun or very light shade. I especially am found of the low growing types in the Cotoneaster dammeri family. These types stay low to the ground often growing only 12 inches or less, while spreading 6 to 10 feet wide. These are useful trailing over walls or as groundcover. The berries also don’t seem to get the birds drunk like pyacantha berries so you will not be contributing the moral decay of our fine-feathered friends.

These are some of the more common types of fall and winter blooming shrubs, but is certainly not a complete list. Visit your garden center now to see other types of berry producing plants that will add a festive accent to your garden.

Trey Pitsenberger is a Master Nursery Professional with over twenty-three years of horticultural experience. Trey and his wife Monica co-own The Golden Gecko Garden Center in Garden Valley. Trey can be reached at 530-333-2394.

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