I'm berry discouraged

diggerdee zone 6 CTOctober 5, 2012

I have planted several plants for winter interest... and they are turning out to be very boring! Why can't I get any berries?!

I have a couple of ilex Winter Reds, with a pollinator about ten feet away (either Jim Dandy or Southern Gentleman, whichever was recommended). The plants are about three years old and 5 to 6 feet tall, in moist soil and part shade. Can it be the "part shade" that's killing me? The plants overall seem happy there otherwise.

I have a serviceberry - or should I just say a service, lol? A Brilliant or Brilliantissima. No berries (second year plant, berries last year when purchased) and quite frankly, not much of a leaf display either, as many leaves are already gone. Perhaps a stressful year for it? In medium to moist soil, part sun/part shade (more sun than shade). I'm as disappointed in the lack of leaf display as I am the lack of berries, as last year it was quite beautiful when I planted it.

I have an ilex Winter Gold, with a pollinator about 20 feet away. Nary a berry. Second year, good moist soil, again, part shade, part sun.

A viburnum Winterthur. I'm thinking the prolem with this may be a pollinator. I did what I thought was thorough research before buying, and didn't think it needed a pollinator, but a search the other day showed some links that said it may be necessary. The shrub itself is doing wonderfully in its spot.

What am I doing wrong? Could it really be the part sun situations? I (again) did research and all seemed to be able to be in a part sun situation; and while the plants themselves all seem to be doing quite well, perhaps "growing" and "thriving and berrying" in part sun/part shade are two different things....

Also, I did think that I saw the beginnings of berries on several of these earlier in the season. Could the birds have eaten everything already? Don't they have to wait till the fruit is ripe? And while I did kind of plant them for the birds as well as myself, is there any way to delay the birds from eating so soon (other than netting)?

I'm really discouraged, especially when I see some of these things on the side of the road in far worse conditions and they seem to be in full beautiful berry throughout the winter.

Thoughts and suggestions please?

Thank you!


P.S. Thank goodness for my callicarpa! The beautiful purple berries make me feel a bit less of a berry failure!

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Don't feel hopeless. I've had a winterthur in the ground for a least 4 growing seasons. I suspect it was 2 years old when I bought it.and now it is 4 feet tall and has a good crop of berries....maybe the first crop. anything else was so insignificant that I didn't notice or didn't remember..
An onandaga viburnum took at least 5 years to bloom, much less berry. It was seven feet tall when it bloomed
And I'm sure my winterberries were very scarce for two years.
v.mariesii took at least three seasons to bloom and it wasn't until the 5 or 6 year that it was worth looking at.
We are entirely oversold on bounteous berries....they come, but when the plant is mature enough to produce them.
I remember George explaining when a climbing hydrangea blooms....on three year old wood. I remember doing the math and when you figure how long it takes to get going and how little three year old wood you'll get on a even a 25 dollar pot,and.....
the plant often is set back a year in its bloom cycle by transplanting....or a crappy growing season (too hot, too little water, weird freezes...)
I've concluded I have been impatient.
I understand that more clearly because I am now planting shrubs and far fewer perennials. And flowering trees? they really make you hurry up and wait. (except for those little magnolias stellata and I don't even like them) and since you got me going I bought a really expensive franklinia that was planted in summer 2010. In 2011 it had one flower. This year not a one. It's growing conditions are perfect and it looks great. It just isn't ready to flower.
Take Heart!!!and buy some pots of chrysanthemums to lift your spirits...

    Bookmark   October 5, 2012 at 9:49PM
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prairiemoon2 z6 MA

Dee, I have a 'Wentworth' Viburnum that is over five years old that is only showing a fair crop of berries this year and it is in part shade. It does get large, so you have to have the room for it. I have a 'Red Wings' Viburnum that started producing berries in it's second year in part sun, a little more sun than the other. It is a fast growing shrub.

Right now the shrub with the most berries is a Cornus racemosa, a Gray Dogwood, that is covered with white berries. And that took at least two years, maybe three. It was planted in 2005 and this is it's best year. Also in part shade. A very fast growing effective shrub in part shade, it's one drawback is it does sucker.

Oddly, my Blue Hollies have few berries this year, and they were covered with flowers in the spring. I have some in mostly shade, that still produce berries. And I have the pollinators for those close by.

I also had a Serviceberry. HAD. I planted it in 2004 and cut it down and dug it out last year. I had both the shrub variety 'Regent' and the tree form. The shrub never did anything. The foliage was briefly colored before they all dropped. Never had berries, and the winter moths made a mess of it every spring. The tree had a few years of a good crop of berries that the Robins would strip it in two days. The fall foliage was again, a fairly good orange but they would fall so fast, it wasn't of much benefit. The tree also developed some kind of mildew problem that killed branches, and made the tree look unhealthy most of the time, so out it went.

I've always thought that full sun would produce much better crops of berries, which I don't have enough of. I also wonder if there are enough bees pollinating them?

    Bookmark   October 6, 2012 at 6:46AM
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corunum z6 CT(6)

Great title for the thread, Dee. I agree with Marie and PM2. My first thoughts were time and bees. You have too many shrub/tree varieties here to blame the gardener for so berry many reasons. IF you have a little sunnier spot somewhere (or a big container)and want to stay native, chokeberry (Aronia) works very well and quicker than the Ilex(es) and the chokeberries will be on stem until early February when the robins and cedar waxwings devour every berry in under 3 hours. Chokeberries have to freeze, thaw and freeze again before the birds will eat them, so they're on the bush longer. I recall seeing blue colored berries once -only once- on my serviceberry trees. The birds see them first and that's it - very much like starlings wiping wild dogwood clean in about 15 minutes. Time and maybe bees, but I'd look to Mother Nature to supply the answers now. I believe the gardener in your yard has done all she could quite properly.


    Bookmark   October 6, 2012 at 8:39AM
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diggerdee zone 6 CT

Thank you, Jane, for your reassuring words! I guess on one hand I have been impatient, but then again I really don't feel that waiting nicely for three years is impatient! Okay, yes maybe I need to be more patient with the plants that were just planted last year, (although the 2011-planted callicarpa is beautiful, if small) but the ones that have been there for three years (ilex & viburnum) better hurry up and do something, lol.

PM2, you brought up a point I forgot to add - I did see lots of little flowers on the viburnum earlier, so I was hoping for a good showing of berries. And again, the Winter Gold and the Winter Reds had tiny berries forming earlier in the season. That's why I thought the birds might have eaten them all.

Maybe I'll try the chokeberry, since the birds have to wait to eat the berries. I really don't mind sharing with the birds - I did after all try to plant natives so the birds could eat - but I'd like to at least *see* a few berries before they are eaten!

And I guess I'll just have to try to be more patient. Thanks for the encouragement.

Oh, and any thoughts on a pollinator for the viburnum (Winterthur)? I'm finding both yay and nay on the subject when I search...

Thank you!

    Bookmark   October 6, 2012 at 5:44PM
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claireplymouth z6b coastal MA

Dee: You can go crazy reading about Viburnum pollinators - the Shrubs forum goes into great detail concerning time of bloom in different locations, etc., bottom line being that the two viburnums must be in bloom at about the same time.

Anyway, this year I bought a Viburnum 'Brandywine' from Bluestone Perennials and then a V. 'Winterthur' from Lazy S'S Nursery after I read that the two of them are good pollinators for each other according to Lazy S'S.

Both of them are two young to flower so I don't know yet whether it will work to produce berries.


    Bookmark   October 6, 2012 at 8:21PM
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Dont be disappointed. Ilex verticillata bears fruit best with more sun-the fuller the better,as long as soil is not bone dry. Ive had them bear only ok in part sun! One pollinator should be fine-are there enough bees around your property? Watch what you spray. No bees -no berries.Sometimes berries or fruit form then fall due to lack of pollination or attrition due to other stressors. If the plants are not fully rooted out then they might not be able to support fruit yet. In the nursery,plants are constantly fertilized and will fruit as young plants.
The Winterthur probably needs to root out and mature to bear. Ive seen them in the nursery bearing on a two foot tall plant-forced by fertilizer!A different variety of the same species should help with fruit set.A variety that is not of the same species usually dosent help with fertilization.
Service berries do great in deciduous shade as an under story plant but wont bear as well. Growing them in the woods edge hides their worst flaw-they defoliate early and usually completely. I still love them for their foamy flowers,silver graceful winter form and their bird attracting powers. I have one below the deck that draws catbirds close. I dont care that its stripped. I have cornus alternifolia that I call "bird show bush". The birds line up and take turns-a great show for about three weeks.
In choosing plants for shade ,watch for generic lists that label all species ,like viburnum ,as shade plants. Dont forget, some plants cant take root competition well. You can limb up trees to get more light without taking trees down too.
Plants that I think might work for you are Viburnum plicatum-the strait species has really heavy berry set in late summer-a good time to shop so you dont get the non-bearing types.
Rhototyphus or jet bead. Does well in deep shade but bears better with more sun, has yellow fall color and white flowers.
Cotoneaster apiculata or C. horizontalis( can train up against a wall as an espalliar) in more sun. C. dammeri or salicifolia in more shade but both dont have lots of berries.
Ilex opaca, bears in sun or shade, nearly immune to deer-gets better with hollytone and age.
Ilex golden girl-really beautiful, dark stems and leaves with golden orange berries. Mesearve hybrid-not really deer resistant.
Aronia arbutifolia, tough, nice flowers, ok berry set-more in sun, nice upright habit.
Ilex pendunculosa, evergreen looks like laurel with cherry like berry.
Euonomus coloratus,grows up trees nicely.Berries last through most of winter
Euonomus americanus-hearts a bustin looks great right after thanksgiving -takes shade.
Lindera benzoin,neat chartreuse flowers very early,dark ruby berries in fall,yellow fall color, black stems.Likes wet shade best.
Chionanthus virginicus,foamy white flowers, blue edible berries.
Heptocodium miconioides-not a berry ,but a great seed head in fall.
Rosa, some species, like geranium and sealing wax have exceptional fruits. Musk roses will bloom in part shade.
Vaccineum-blue berry family. Many species, some hard to locate,some evergreen, others great fall color and berries to boot.Cranberry is V.vitis-idea.
Ilex glabra has a white berried form I've been wanting to try,they normally are black.
Sambucus has some great berried forms,though summer-fall bearing.Elderberry, S.canadensis ,is one of my favorite shrubs. Simular to it is S.nigra,the european elderberry. I love s.microbotrys which has red berries in late summer-in deep shade!There are others in this group which sound intriguing!
Perennials;wintergreen gaultheria procumbens,partrige berry,
mitchella repens,Lords and ladies arum italicum pictum,Blackberry lily belemcanda chinensis,jack in the pulpit arasaema triphylum,ophipogon japonicus, Iris foetidus.
I like viburnum setegerum-large hanging fruits,V.diltatum crabs eye viburnum-small fruits in clusters with black "eye" spot,V.carlesii great scent-some berries -buds dark red hold for a long time in early spring before opening.
I see Sorbus alnifolius recommended as the best mountain ash.
Malus,golden raindrops,prarie fire and snowdrift are all scab resistant. All have great fruit set.
Nyssa sylvatica, great fall color and small blue black berries.
Juniper virginiana has great blue berries.There are seperate male and female plants so best to select a plant in fruit. Juniper chinensis torulosa has good berries too.
Evodia danielli is on my want list-blackish purple berries in late summer-fall. Flowers like queen anns lace-not so striking as berries.
Cornus-cant beat c. florida for berries-and birds. They descend in one big flock and eat until the tree is stripped-a great show! c. kousa has red dangling balls that cover it late summer-fall. The bark on older trees is its best feature to me. Other cornus species have nice berries in blue and white but c. mas has dark red fruits in late summer that are edible.
Crataegus has some berry bearing cultivare-all seem to defoliate by the end of summer-better to site them in sun with air movement. Under a tree "umbrella" also seems to help if trees are high overhead and open to the sun. C. phaenopyrum is spectacular in the winter though!
I hope this gives you some hope of a berry good future!

    Bookmark   October 7, 2012 at 1:20AM
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Here are some plants I forgot-neither is commonly found at your local garden center.
Symplocos paniculata or sapphire berry,white foamy flowers then sapphire blue berries in spring. Its a large shrub-small tree to about 15'.It will take part shade,. My neighbor had one when I was growing up. I think he bought it from Wayside Gardens years ago. I don't know why its not more popular!
Diphylleia cymosa-a little known shade dwelling NATIVE plant that has striking large foliage,a white umbel flower in spring with red rays that support blue berries later on. Another plant I cant believe isn't better known.
This brought to mind some other native berry bearing plants that I love.
The first is Actea rubra and Actea pachypoda . Both have a small white thimble shaped flower head. Rubra forms ruby red berries, pachypoda forms white berries with a black spot hence is known as "dolls eyes"
Similar in some ways is Caulophyllum thalictroides. It is an under story dwelling native with slightly glaucus foliage similar to thalictrum. The flowers are not showy but the berries that form are.
I had another come to mind-a shrub,
Symphoricarpus albus,a low to medium shrub with blue green foliage , small flowers and white berries in fall. I have this and have grown it in a few places. It needs a moist environment, it will spread slowly by suckers. Where I gathered my original plant, it grew by a stream under tree cover and bore a decent amount of berries-not a lot though. Here with more sun but squeezed between things in a small garden, I'm not getting much at all. I think it needs room to spread out-with a big group it bears enough to be showy.I haven't given up-its well behaved and the foliage is nice. In another garden I worked on-it died out from too much heat.
I am thinking of trying a cousin of snowberry-s. orbiculatus or s.microphyllus. Both have pink to red berries that are smaller then snowberry though,but the small flowers are pink. Its also listed as a wildlife food source. New varieties are available now one called scarlet pearl, another is charming fantasy. Monrovia is distributing these though I haven't seen them yet!
One more I cant forget!
Callicarpa dichotoma has a white berried form-but there also is a NATIVE callicarpa, C. americana. I tried and lost it in my deep shade garden:( but in the garden I first saw it in(in an open spot-not crowded in shade like in my garden)it looked GREAT.
This is all I can think of for now! But I'm already dreaming of a bed of Callicarpa Americana or symphoricarpus orbiculatus in front of a group of three symplocos!
Backed by a group of?....

    Bookmark   October 7, 2012 at 9:32PM
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How very strange - I'm growing every berry producing plant you have mentioned, only one in close to full sun, the others all in shade ranging from
half sun/half shade to dappled shade to FULL shade! And every one of them
is producing plentiful berries. . .and rather than the birds taking a lot of the
berries (which they eventually do), it's the damn squirrels that are the biggest
problem! Those buggers go way out on the limb of an Ilex verticillata to get
the fattest clumps, and, of course, the limb can't support them, so it snaps

Now, some of that intense heat last May, June and July occurred during their
flowering and fruit development stages - mine were all getting deep watered
at least once a week! - so that certainly could have something to do with your lack of berries this year. . .the suggestion about not enough bee pollination
also sounds plausible - but aren't you near a natural area?


    Bookmark   October 8, 2012 at 12:16AM
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diggerdee zone 6 CT

Carl, are your plants older than mine perhaps?

Moisture is definitely not a problem. The majority of these plants are in the very wet, almost swampy area that I posted about around three years ago, if you recall that thread. And I don't think it is TOO wet, as for the most part all the shrubs are growing very well and looking very healthy - growing faster than I had hoped for, actually. The one or two that are not in this area still get adequate water as I check them regularly, being somewhat newly planted. ANd everything is mulched with shredded leaves.

Bees...? Well, there are bees (I got stung in this yard, lol, so I know there was at least one buzzing around!) but I couldn't say how many. The gardens are near a patch of woods in a rural suburban area, and I would wager off the top of my head that there are adequate bees.

Laura, thank you for taking the time to list all those suggestions. Much appreciated. I will refer back to the list to get some ideas if I decide to plant further in this area. I guess in the meantime I will give things another year or two and hope the berries show up!


    Bookmark   October 8, 2012 at 3:14PM
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Hi, Dee

I'm glad you posted this topic. I want to put a fruit bearing shrub on the north side of the yard. I am trying to figure out what will work best in this part shade area. I need a shrub that will stay under 6'. My yard is small.

It is a toss up between a serviceberry (Amelanchier stonlonifera) or a viburnum (Viburnum acerifolium).

Carl, are you the Carl I meet at George's last Sunday? Which shrub did well in your dappled shade and full shade?


    Bookmark   October 10, 2012 at 10:48AM
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Tina, I've been part of several discussions about serviceberry on this board. My experience with this small tree was beyond a disappointment. It is so susceptible to attack from insects and disease that I would strongly caution against planting it - I gave up after about 3 dismal years and removed mine.

I've been the minority opinion on this topic more than once, but it seems to me that some of the former proponents of Amelanchier have since changed their views.

I don't think you can beat a deciduous winterberry holly for berry display; there are several varieties that are short, too. I have one of the taller ones, mixed in with longstalk holly (I. pedunculosa, which I love!) and don't have personal experience with the smaller ones.

You might also consider nandina domestica - it's got wonderful semi-evergreen foliage, nice flowers and brilliant fruit. Check its hardiness rating in your area - it's fine here, but I'm technically in zone 7.

Here is a link that might be useful: winterberry varieties at garden guides

    Bookmark   October 10, 2012 at 12:43PM
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ejr2005(Eastern MA)

I've also been disappointed in my serviceberry brilliantissima. Whenever it rains too much it suffers from something and loses its leaves early. I keep it because I love the early flowers which we can see from our dining area and to us herald the new spring. It's had berries in the past but the birds love them and take them quickly.

We have three ilexes - sparkleberry, red sprite, and Jim Dandy which is supposed to pollinate the red sprite. For the past two years though the sparkleberry has been pollinated instead of the red sprite. Jim Dandy's timing has been a little off! All three are in a lot of shade under tall hemlocks. The sparkleberry has a lot of red berries.

We also have a viburnum Winterthur and Brandywine, both planted about three years ago. Their first year the Winterthur got hit by a disease and most of it died, and the Brandywine was flattened by a limb from my neighbpr's tree. They're both coming back but haven't had flowers yet.

    Bookmark   October 16, 2012 at 8:51PM
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diggerdee zone 6 CT

I was working in the garden today, assessing the fall (and potential winter) interest, and thought about this thread I posted last year. This evening I sat down to find it, and couldn't believe it was almost exactly a year to the day!

Things have improved somewhat, but not enough that I'm thrilled with the garden. And let me say that while these beds get most of my attention, I still have been somewhat neglectful, so certainly some of the fault lies with me.

WInter Red ilexes are producing more berries than last year, as is the Winter Gold. I wouldn't quite call it "profuse" just yet, but better, so there is hope for the future! And I'm keeping my fingers crossed that the berries will stick around long enough to really be seen.

Viburnum Winterthur is wildly happy in its spot and growing beautifully despite having a major stem of it main trunk broken off by a falling tree limb last year. I tried to wrap this stem/branch to the trunk, hoping it would grow together. It hasn't really, but by the same token it doesn't seem to mind a bit. Both main trunk and hanging branch are doing fine. Except still no real sign of significant berries. Hoping for at least some nice foliage, but so far its still pretty green, so hard to tell.

I planted a couple of evergreen hollies last year - China Girl and Boy - and so far not a single berry. They may need more time.

I made a big mistake in my original post - it's a chokeberry I have, not a serviceberry. Geez, I don't know why I ALWAYS mix up these two! Then again, my siblings and I were often called by the dog's name by my mother, so I guess it happens!

Whatever you call it, it's on the verge of being yanked. What's the point of "brilliant fall foliage" if the foliage falls off in summer? And not a berry to be seen. If I don't yank it completely, I may at least give it another chance in a wetter spot. Maybe it's too dry where it is. And of course it's in a visible, prominent spot, since I expected much more from it.

Last fall I bought some azaleas strictly on impulse because the fall foliage was so beautiful. This year, they're not looking so good, but this could be on me - they probably needed more water this year to get established.

Lastly, my Ivory Halo dogwoods are looking downright awful. Most of them in this spot have defoliated already, and they don't look too promising for any kind of red color. I just can't figure out this one.

I do have a yellow twig dogwood (can't remember which one off the top of my head) and the color on that is good but I might have to (gulp!!) prune it, as it is kind of growing all wild and crisscrossed.

On the good side, my iteas are wonderful, and absolutely loving their wet home, growing much faster and bigger than I thought, and living up to the fall foliage promises.

My little Bluestone callicarpa has grown nicely this year, and is covered in quite a profuse amount of berries. And I have a little rhodie - I think a PJM - which once again is turning shades of purple and gold and red and is quite the little eye-catcher.

It was actually really helpful for me to pull up this old thread, and read through it for suggestions and options. I have to remember to call it up again during the winter so I can rethink things. And thanks again to everyone who took the time to post and help me out.

In the meantime, my evergreens (spruce, rhodies, pieris, hollies (minus berries) are looking pretty good, so if the berries and twigs are sparse, at least I'll have something going on!


    Bookmark   October 4, 2013 at 10:03PM
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