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Gardeners' Dirt: Berries are merry and bright for landscape

By Carmen Price
Dec. 21, 2010 at 6:21 a.m.
Updated Dec. 23, 2010 at 6:23 a.m.

With lavender-pink flowers in the spring, the American beauty berry bush has magenta-colored berries in clusters that hug the branches close to the leaves in the fall.  The berries provide color in the winter and food for birds.

With lavender-pink flowers in the spring, the American beauty berry bush has magenta-colored berries in clusters that hug the branches close to the leaves in the fall. The berries provide color in the winter and food for birds.

This Christmas Eve morning, I am reminded of the splendor of color at this time of year and, in particular, of what nature brings to brighten our surroundings.

If your landscape needs some color, you might consider planting one of the many berry-producing shrubs that come in a multitude of shapes and sizes, bearing fruit in magenta, red, blue, orange or yellow.

Not only will these shrubs provide color and aromatic blossoms at various times of the year, but some of them will also provide a live fence and screen, as well as shelter and food for birds.

Some of are them are native shrubs as well as perennials that do well in our South Texas climate.

MAGENTA BERRIES

One of the most attractive bushes has clusters of glossy, iridescent-magenta fruit, which hug the branches close to the leaves in the fall and winter. The American beauty berry or the French mulberry shrub (Callicarpa americana L.) often grows to five feet tall and is usually just as wide with arching branches and yellow-green fall foliage.

Callicarpa grows best in light shade, under the canopy of deciduous trees and prefers well drained soil. The shrub can tolerate some periods of drought, but prefers to be watered once a week.

Beauty berries have small, lavender-pink flowers in spring, followed by vivid purple or fuchsia-colored berries in the fall. The berries attract birds and provide winter color.

By fall, the foliage turns an attractive yellow.

Heavy pruning in early spring will result in a thicker, tighter bush with larger leaves, as compared to the leggier, "weepy" appearance of unpruned bushes.

RED BERRIES

A shrub with brilliant, red berries is produced by the pyracantha (Pyracanta coccinea). In spring, this shrub produces aromatic, ornamental clusters of delicate white flowers. The berries follow in autumn, lasting all winter and sometimes into spring. It is a wonderful accent to any garden.

The pyracantha has a large number of uses. It can be used as an espalier or trained against a wall. Clipped, the pyracantha makes a good hedge, and left unclipped, it becomes a barrier with sharp thorns to deter intruders.

This shrub will tolerate several soils and prefers sun or partial shade.

One more shrub with red berries is the dwarf Barbados cherry (Malphigia glabra). It is an outstanding evergreen shrub for South Texas. Without coaxing or pampering, this drought-tolerant, 3- to 4-feet Texas native produces small pink and white flowers from late spring to fall, attracting birds and butterflies with its fire engine red berries and sweet nectar.

This bush is cold hardy in our South Texas climate. The shrub can withstand temperatures down to the mid-20's before losing leaves.

The limbs are small and airy, but it can be easily pruned for a more formal look.

Full sun, drought tolerant, soil tolerant with good drainage and best of all, deer resistant.

BLUE BERRIES

A different shrub with shiny, blue berries is the Indian Hawthorn (Rhaphiolepis indica). The fruit arrives in late summer giving this plant family another dimension to your garden. It is an evergreen shrub that requires full sun.

The Hawthorn is a low-maintenance plant and is considered drought tolerant once it is established. There are several different varieties of this plant, and it is adaptable to many garden settings. It can be planted around swimming pools, ponds, or it can be used as a border.

One of the primary features of the Indian Hawthorn is the splendid mass of small white or pink blooms that appear in the spring.

Any of the Hawthorn species is an excellent plant for the coastal region of Texas, as it tolerates salt and high humidity.

ORANGE-YELLOW BERRIES

The golden dew drop, a.k.a. sky flower or duranta, (Duranta erecta) is a popular plant with bright, orange-yellow berries. The sky blue or purple flowers emerge in loose clusters and blooms, plus berries are often seen on the plant at the same time.

The duranta grows in well-drained soil in full sun and is drought tolerant. It is a fast-growing shrub, suitable for annual summer interest growing up to 15 feet tall and 10 feet wide. Durantas can be pruned as needed to maintain a low height and dense growth habit. Otherwise, they will throw off long, dangling, cascading branches, which can be nice in some locations where the plant can grow tall and unchecked, but this plant is not at all harmed by pruning close to the main stem. It encourages a bushier look.

All of the above berry shrubs will provide year-round color in your garden with various shades of flowers and brilliant berries in late summer or early fall - and some into the winter. Any of these shrubs would be a great addition to your property.

And what's more, the winter berries can help make the holidays merry and bright.

Merry Christmas from the 167 Victoria County Master Gardeners and interns.

The Gardeners' Dirt is written by members of the Victoria County Master Gardener Association, an educational outreach of Texas AgriLife Extension - Victoria County. Mail your questions in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77901; or vcmga@vicad.com, or comment on this column at www.VictoriaAdvocate.com.

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