Holly of the Year 2021


Ilex verticillata 'Winter Red'

Ilex verticillata Winter Red
Photo by Jim Resch

Holly of the Year for 2021
Ilex verticillata 'Winter Red'

By Jim Resch

Our Holly of the Year for 2021 is an exceptional female selection of the common winterberry, Ilex verticillata ‘Winter Red’. As the name implies, ‘Winter Red’ is prized for its heavy crops of bright red fruits, which persist well into winter after the leaves fall from the shrub. These brighten up the landscape and provide winter food for wildlife, and as an added bonus the cut branches can be used in holiday decorating.

‘Winter Red’ was selected by Robert Simpson of Vincennes, Indiana around 1960, but not formally named or introduced until 1977. Simpson did much to champion the use of Ilex verticillata in the landscape plant, introducing a number of superior selections of this long-overlooked native shrub. Among his many introductions was ‘Southern Gentleman’, a male clone specifically selected as a holly-mate to ensure the pollination of ‘Winter Red’.

Like all winterberries, ‘Winter Red’ can be grown in any good garden soil, and is tolerant of wet locations, even those which are subject to periodic flooding. Fruiting is heaviest when the plant is grown in full sun, but partly shaded wood margins are also acceptable as planting sites. Winterberries appreciate a heavy fertilization in late winter with a balanced fertilizer such as 10-6-4, or an organic choice such as Holly-tone®. This will encourage strong new spring growth and heavy flowering on those new branches. Any pruning is best delayed until after flowering, to avoid removing the season’s set of new fruit. Alternately, up to a third of the oldest branches may be cut to the ground in winter to allow for the rejuvenation of the shrub. Left to its own devices, ‘Winter Red’ becomes a multistemmed shrub that may reach ten feet in height, with an equal or even greater width. Hardiness is never a problem, as it is successfully grown in Zones 4 through 9.

Please send nominations for Holly of the Year to: Holly of the Year Committee via email at hollyofyear@hollysocam.org or mail to Holly of the Year c/o Frank Shriver, 3200 Littlestown Pike, Westminster. MD 21158.