In the Garden:
Middle South
October, 2012
Regional Report

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Backlit by sun, the berries of this linden viburnum glow like rubies.

Bring Berried Treasures to Light

In the autumn garden, there's nothing more eye-catching than the bright red berries of Linden viburnum (V. dilatatum), especially when backlit by the sun. Sparkling above the shrub's cloak of green foliage, they attract the attention of hungry birds, as well as the gardener.

Among fall's bounty of berries, red fruits are usually the first to go, but as the cold season stretches on, the birds become less persnickety. They move quickly from red to other vibrant colors such as orange, yellow, and white, and then on to purple, blue, and black.

Though most ornamental berries are poisonous to humans, many are worth cutting for display. They make a handsome accent when combined with late-blooming flowers, such as dahlias, but I like them best when cut as long stems and arranged with fall foliage or grasses.

The following plants, grouped by color, offer a handful of suggestions (minus the ubiquitous holly) for the berry-challenged garden.

Red, Orange, Yellow, and White Berries
Linden viburnum (V. dilatatum) is an upright deciduous shrub or small tree, growing to 10 feet tall, that is useful in a mixed border or woodland garden. The red drupes, held in clusters at the tip of branches, are about a third of an inch in diameter. Noted cultivars include 'Cardinal Candy' and 'Iroquois'. The plant grows best in part shade.

Viburnums comprise a large and diverse group of plants. On many, blossoms are followed by showy fruits. In general, the best fruiting occurs when several selections bloom together, allowing for cross-pollination. Others of this genus renowned for red berries are the tea viburnum (V. setigerum), the American cranberry bush (V. trilobum), and the European cranberry bush (V. opulus).

Flowering crabapples (Malus) are deciduous trees that range from 6 to 40 feet tall, with most growing to about 25 feet high. Fruit size varies from a quarter-inch to 2 inches long. The trees, which should be given full sun, are adapted to a wide range of soil types. Superior red fruiting cultivars include 'Narragansett', 'Red Jewel', 'Candied Apple', and 'Callaway', while 'Harvest Gold' offers yellow fruit.

Firethorn (Pyracantha) is a vigorous evergreen shrub of various sizes that is often espaliered but can also be grown in its natural sprawling form. Pea-size berries may be red, orange, or yellow; if color is important, chose plants while they're fruiting. Hybrids are often superior in disease resistance and ornamental value. Some of the best include 'Apache' with large red berries, 'Mohave' with profuse orange-red fruits, 'Teton' with golden yellow berries, and the groundcover 'Ruby Mound' with red fruits. Grow this shrub in full sun or part shade.

Gladwin iris (Iris foetidissima) is a hardy evergreen herbaceous plant that grows to about 2 feet tall. Summer's subtle flowers in shades of blue and tan produce large seed capsules that open in autumn to reveal a profusion of vibrant orange seeds. This species of iris likes plenty of moisture and full sun to light shade.

Purple, Blue, and Black Berries
Arrowwood viburnum (V. dentatum) is a deciduous shrub or small tree growing 6 to 10 feet tall, which makes it a useful screen or tall hedge. Black-blue fruits are ovoid in shape and less than a half-inch long. Noted cultivars include the compact 'Blue Muffin' and 'Cardinal' with brilliant fall foliage. Plant in sun or part shade.

Other viburnums celebrated for their dark colored berries include the black haw and the southern black haw (V. rufidulum).

American beautyberry (Callicarpa americana) is a deciduous shrub growing up to 6 feet tall and nearly as wide, with arching stems that display clusters of vibrant magenta drupes. The shrub works well in a mixed border or in a massed planting. It grows best in broken shade and well-drained soil.

Harlequin glorybower (Clerodendrum trichotomum) is a large deciduous shrub that grows 10 to 15 feet tall. Pea-sized, iridescent blue fruits are backed by an eye-catching scarlet calyx. Plant in full sun, and give this shrub plenty of room to spread.

Black chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa) is a small deciduous shrub that grows 3 to 5 feet tall and spreads somewhat wider. Clusters of shiny black fruits, each about the size of a large blueberry, dangle from red stems. Fall foliage is an attention-grabbing scarlet. The shrub grows best in full sun to part shade on moist but well-drained soil.

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