Winter Berries to Enjoy

It really is possible to grow berries all year long, as long as you pick the right winter berries.

Winter berries usually don't leap to mind when most people consider cultivating berries, but that's only natural. Berries that mature during the warm season are more common, with the exception of certain favorites like cranberries and lingonberries -- and even those tend to mature in late fall.

Cold Weather Fruit

But we're fortunate in that there are berries for every season, and winter does have its share. Most are tree or shrub-based. Not all are edible for humans, but many are; and some that aren't are favorites of wild animals, especially birds, which depend on them as a primary food source in the winter.

At the very least, even inedible berries can provide some much-needed color to offset the drabness of late fall and winter, spicing up your yard and garden with splashes of red, blue, and purple.

Let's take a look at a few fine varieties of wintertime berries.

Deck the Halls...

Holly trees and shrubs offer classic red berry clusters, which are so familiar to Western eyes that they've become a classic symbol of winter and Christmas. In fact, some say that's part of the reason that red and green are traditional Yuletide colors.

There are plenty of colorful holly cultivars that produce red berries in combination with their glossy evergreen boughs. Most flourish in full sun and well-drained soils. Among the heaviest berry-producers are English holly, Dahoon holly, Chinese holly, and Possomhaw, which may produce both orange and red fruit.

Holly berries are slightly toxic to humans, but birds love them. The berries start out quite hard, but after a few frosts turn soft enough for hungry birds to eat. Birds also like to shelter inside the holly trees, behind the leaves, during storms and really cold weather.

Blue and Purple Berries

The American beautyberry (a.k.a. the French mulberry), a mid-sized shrub, lives up to its name with clusters of lovely lavender berries that last from late fall well into the winter. These berries are edible, though they tend to be bland. You may want to leave them for the birds, which find them tasty enough.

Elderberries are also an option. Depending on species, the berries (which closely resemble blueberries) can vary from red to blue to a rich, dark purple-black, with an odd white variety native to Australia thrown in for good measure.

Blue and purple elderberries are quite edible, especially after a frost has removed the bitterness that tends to characterize the new berries -- but you'll have to beat the birds to them. There's no word on the white, but avoid the red elderberries; some sources claim these winter berries are slightly toxic.

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