All About Gardening and Gardening Q & A by Pernell Gerver

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"Ornamental-Berried Shrubs for Fall and Winter Interest"

In winter, the home landscape is a rather colorless place. Trees have dropped their leaves, the flowers are long gone, the lawn might be covered in snow, and generally the landscape lacks bright colors.

However, landscape plantings don't have to be bleak and void of color just because of winter. Certain shrubs have berries or fruits that persist through autumn, into winter, and, in some cases, hold on until spring. Shrubs bloom in spring or summer providing color then, and as an added bonus, some hold onto their berries into winter with snow-covered ground being the perfect backdrop to the brightly colored berries. Click on a plant name below to order it from Pernell Gerver's Online Store.

Purple beautyberry is an unusual, lesser-known, and hard-to-find shrub with so many nice traits that it's surprising it's not more well known. In my garden, whenever someone sees it, they invariably ask me, "What is that?"

Its best attribute and what really catches the eye about this shrub is its abundant berries. The berries are a unique bright lavender-violet, a color distinctive to this shrub. They are quite a surprise when they begin to show their color in early autumn. At first look, they almost don't look real! Its color is unique among berried plants.

The berries begin as pale green and gradually change to lavender-violet throughout autumn. The clusters of small, glossy berries are held opposite each other all along each stem above the foliage, from the base of the stem right to the tip. The berries closest to the center of the plant begin to show color first. The last to change are those right at the stem tips. The berries are colorful while the leaves are still on the shrub, creating a beautiful contrast between the green leaves and purple berries. The berries persist on the shrub well into winter after the leaves have dropped. They are even more striking when a light layer of snow coats them and any plant that can provide winter interest here in New England is definitely worth growing in the garden. The striking purple berries are showy from September through March.

Of course, where there are berries, there had to have been flowers first. Purple beautyberry bears small, frothy, lavender-pink flowers almost all summer from late June to August. The flowers appear all along its stems where the leaves join the stems. The individual tiny flowers are not all that showy, but there is an abundance of them lining the stems.

Another nice attribute about purple beautyberry is its autumn foliage. Its small, light-green leaves change to a pale yellow blushed with purple and pink. The combination of autumn foliage and berries is enough to turn heads. The fall foliage is long lasting, providing a colorful show for many weeks in fall. Leaves drop by mid autumn, leaving bare stems lined with dozens of clusters of berries.

As if it didn't have enough going for it already, purple beautyberry is also a small shrub that only grows three to four feet tall with a slightly greater spread. Because of its small, manageable size, it's the perfect choice for a mixed flower bed or border as well as small garden spaces. It has slender branches that arch gracefully outward from the center of the plant. Outer branches reach to the ground, creating a cascading appearance.

Winterberry is another ornamental-berried shrub that provides colorful berries from autumn through winter. Winterberry is a deciduous holly that drops its leaves in fall, revealing its vibrant berries. I like to use stems of winterberry in holiday decorations and in my windowboxes.

Winterberry 'Sparkleberry' is an outstanding variety of winterberry. It forms a handsome, vase-shaped shrub 15 to 18 feet high and nearly as wide. In late summer, its berries turn bright red and persist on the shrub well into winter. It grows well in a range of conditions from sun to shade and tolerates wet soil.

Winterberry 'Red Sprite' is a small deciduous shrub with rounded foliage. The stems are loaded with large, bright-red berries up to 1/2" in diameter. The bright-red berries on bare stems really stand out in winter against snow-covered ground. This variety of winterberry is small, forming a handsome shrub just three to four feet high and wide without any pruning. Because of its small size, it's a good choice for small gardens. I am growing it in my flower bed where its vibrant berries really stand out, especially in winter when all the other plants have gone dormant.

Pernell Gerver's Gardening Q & Aby Pernell Gerver

"Divide Sedum to Reduce Its Size"

Q. I have some very, very tall and wide sedum plants. I would like them smaller. I have had to put string around them and peony supports so they don't topple over. Do you have any suggestions? Dividing them has been suggested. Will this work? Thank you!

A. Sedum are wonderful late-summer and autumn-blooming perennials. The upright types have large, flat-topped flower clusters atop their stems. Because their flower heads are so large, they can sometimes become top heavy and cause the stems to flop over, especially after rain.

Dividing very large plants will help reduce their size. I divide sedum in spring, before new growth appears. Dig up the entire clump and divide it into several sections, making sure to get enough roots with each section. Replant the divisions at the same depth they were growing. Although this will reduce the size of the plant for a few years, it will eventually become large again and need to be divided again.

Sedum grows best in full sun, so make sure it's growing in the sunniest spot possible. Sedum grown in shadier locations often tends to flop over when in bloom.

For large, established plantings, set a peony ring over the top of the plant in early spring as soon as it begins to grow. As the stems grow, they will grow through the supporting ring and remain upright all season long, even when in bloom.

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