Red, White, and Blue Berries

What kind of fruit comes in red, white, and blue? Berries, of course!

Blueberries are a huge treat. Our daughter in western Washington grows them by the bucketful, although our granddaughters have a habit of grazing on them in the backyard, so they don’t always make it into the kitchen.

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Creeping Mahonia

mahonia-aquifolium-compacta_oregon-grape_dbg-co_lah_4128When you have a smaller yard, you want every plant to earn its keep. With fragrant yellow flowers, blue berries, and green leaves that turn purple in winter, Creeping Mahonia (aka Oregon Grape, Mahonia repens) definitely deserves a spot!

These are low-growing plants, about 12” to 18” tall, with underground stems (stolons) that spread up to three feet in width.  Spring brings an abundance of small, deep yellow flowers, attractively set off by the dark green leaves. By late summer, these mature into clusters of small, dusty-blue berries that are sour but edible. (A similar species, M. haematocarpa, has red berries). The holly-like foliage persists into winter, turning a lovely plum with the advent of cold weather.

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Pretty, Pretty Coralberry

Symphoricarpos x doorenbosii 'Kordes' Amethyst_Coralberry_DBG_LAH_3100fLots of plants have pretty flowers or showy berries, are drought tolerant, handle clay soil, take full sun or part shade, or tolerate deer browsing on them. But how many plants have all these qualities? Coralberries are clear winners when it comes to choosing plants for our gardens. In fact, the only drawback comes when we try to pronounce their scientific name: Symphoricarpos orbiculatus!

If you’re into plants, you might recognize the genus. Symphoricarpos also includes Snowberries, S. albus, and the plants are fairly similar.

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Colorado’s “Holly”

Pyracantha berries@ColoSpgs LAH 131We’ve succumbed—an artificial tree, fake garlands, silk poinsettias. As I pull our Christmas bins out of storage, I wonder—how did a gardener stoop this low? Isn’t there something Christmas-y I can grow here in Colorado? It would be so nice to simply go outside and snip a few branches to grace our mantle.

While holly isn’t really adapted to our high and dry conditions, and the mistletoe growing in the Ponderosa pines differs from the pretty parasites of England, there is one plant that not only produces red berries in December, it’s one of the very few broad-leafed evergreens to survive in Zone 5!

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Beyond Fall Foliage

Want to add autumn interest to your garden? Frost has arrived and flowers are finishing their season, but we don’t have to settle for a boring landscape. Even in Colorado, it’s possible to create a garden that is beautiful all year.

Colorful foliage is everywhere this time of year, but there’s more to fall than just leaves, no matter how spectacular they might be. Look for bright berries, persistent seedheads, and even colorful or thorny bark and branches.

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Ho, Ho, Holly

ilex_holly-berries“Deck the balls with boughs of holly” might work well in Merry Olde England, or even in the eastern U.S., but it’s not very practical at my house,  just north of Colorado Springs, Colorado. We have too much sunshine, the air and soil is too dry, and our soils are too lean and too alkaline. Holly won’t survive winter’s dessicating winds. At least, that’s what I learned when we moved here.

So imagine my surprise a couple of weeks ago when I was out for a walk in a near-by subdivision, and there were two bushes, covered with green leaves and red berries, planted in the strip of soil between the sidewalk and the street. Could it be?

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Staghorn Sumac

sumac-fall-color-colospgs-6oct2005-lah-004s

When most plants are finishing up for the season, Staghorn Sumac is just coming into its prime. During the growing season, the plant’s sturdy brown stems support  leaves a foot or more in length, with many 4-inch leaflets, all grass-green. But in the fall, its brilliant red-orange fall foliage sets the landscape on fire.

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Berries for the Birds

american-robin-in-russian-hawthorn_xg_20091215_lah_5562xHow would you like to have a flock of robins outside your window? How about other thrushes, waxwings, sparrows, towhees, or vireos? Want to add Western Tanager to your yard list?

Along with finches, grosbeaks, thrushes, some warblers, Northern Mockingbird, Townsend’s Solitaire, chickadees, nuthatches, swallows, woodpeckers, pigeons/doves, jays, and even hummingbirds (who drink the juice), all these birds eat berries at some point.*

Planting shrubs and trees that produce berries is a great way to attract more species of birds. Even better, plant several kinds of berries, since each bird species has its favorites.

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Snowberry – Symphoricarpos albus

Symphoricarpos albus_Snowberry_XG-CO_LAH_3119While most fall and winter berries are red, or perhaps dark blue, snowberries sport showy clusters of pristine white, berry-like fruit. If not eaten by the birds, the fruit will adorn the bare branches in winter. The upright, finely-branched shrubs are about three feet tall. Moderate growers, they are long-lived, with tiny pink, bell-shaped flowers that appear in early summer.

A Colorado native, snowberry is well adapted to our growing conditions, and is hardy to zone 3. Soil type doesn’t matter, so long as it’s moderately fertile and reasonably well-drained. Plant in full sun, and water until established. While mature plants are highly drought tolerant, they also survive once-a-week watering, which also results in heavier fruit crops. Prune only to remove old, dead wood.

symphoricarpos-albus-snowberry-dbg-lah-263While the slightly toxic berries are considered inedible by people, deer will browse on the plants. With its dense foliage, snowberry makes a good foundation shrub. For a woodland feel, plant with other natives such as Oregon grape and ponderosa pines.

Cotoneaster Offers Berries, Fall Color

cotoneaster-apiculatus-cranberry-cotoneaster-dbg-28jul04-lah-411As summer’s flowers fade, plants that produce berries take center stage. Branches covered with bright red berries make cotoneasters especially attractive now, but they offer year-round interest. In spring, tiny but abundant white to pink flowers may be obscured by the shiny round green leaves. Foliage turns orange-red in fall. Finally, the berries persist into winter, or until the birds pick them clean.

cotoneaster-in-winter-dbg-lah-002The hardest part of growing cotoneaster is pronouncing it correctly (it’s “ko-TON-ee-AS-ter”). These shrubs thrive with little attention, handling poor soils, full sun to afternoon shade, and moderately low amounts of water. New shrubs should be coddled a bit until vigorous growth begins. Give plants room to spread, pruning only to remove oldest wood and enhance appearance. As with all members of the rose family, cotoneasters are occasionally susceptible to fire blight; some new varieties are tolerant of this disease. The many different species in cultivation vary in hardiness. Most will survive zone 4 or 5 winters, but check the label for the variety you are purchasing.

There is a size and shape for every use. Spreading plants under three feet high make good groundcovers. Try planting them where their arching branches can spill over a wall. Small, stiffly erect shrubs may be used as informal hedges. Tall, fountain-shaped growers form good screens.