Jewels of the fall garden

Berry-laden shrubs and trees decorate the landscape, and attract birds, well into winter
Steven R. Lorton

We often add plants to our gardens in fall because they bear showy flowers or have gorgeous color. But we tend to overlook plants that display ornamental berries. Yet many shrubs and garden-scale trees that bear small fruits can bejewel a landscape from early autumn well into winter.

Berried plants make handsome focal points in the garden, adding bursts of color to otherwise dull spots. Some, like pyracantha, work well as espaliers, bringing lush greenery and seasonal color to a blank wall or fence. Also, it's fun to prune berry-laden branches for indoor arrangements.

There's another good reason to grow these plants: The berries will attract wild birds to your garden. Avian visitors gobble beautyberry, cotoneaster, pyracantha, toyon, and viburnum, among others.

Fall is the time to shop for such plants in garden centers and nurseries. You can plant them in the ground immediately or pop their nursery cans into larger containers and display them on a front porch, patio, or deck during the holiday season.

16 berry worthy plants

Beautyberry (Callicarpa bodinieri 'Profusion'). Round clusters of amethyst to purple berries remain on bare stems after willowlike leaves turn color and drop. This deciduous shrub grows 6 feet tall (sometimes more) and almost as wide. Full sun or light shade. Sunset climate zones 3-9, 14-24.

Cotoneaster. Of the more than 70 species in this genus, these four have exceptionally showy berries:

C. dammeri. Commonly called bearberry cotoneaster, it displays bright red fruits among dark evergreen leaves. Often used as a ground cover; it reaches only 6 to 12 inches tall but will spread 10 feet wide and cascade down a slope. Full sun or partial shade. Zones 2-24.

C. divaricatus. Bright red, egg-shaped fruits deck the branches of this deciduous shrub, whose dark green leaves turn orange red in fall. After the leaves drop, the berries last until the birds devour them. Grows 6 feet tall and wide. Full sun. Zones 1-24.

C. horizontalis. Red fruits hang on after round green leaves turn orange, then red before dropping. The stiff horizontal branches are set in a herringbone pattern. This deciduous shrub grows 2 to 3 feet tall and up to 15 feet wide. Full sun. Zones 2b-11, 14-24, A3.

C. lacteus. Clusters of red fruits last a long time among the dark green leaves of this evergreen shrub. Full sun. Zones 4-24.

Harlequin glorybower ( Clerodendrum trichotomum). Shiny blue or turquoise berries framed by scarlet calyxes form in late summer and hang on after leaves drop. This deciduous shrub reaches 10 to 15 feet tall and wide. Partial shade. Zones 15-17, 20-24; can be grown in zones 5 and 6 but may freeze to the ground.

Hawthorn ( Crataegus). These two deciduous trees are standouts in the berry department. Give them full sun.

• Carriere hawthorn ( C. x lavallei). Clusters of orange red fruits the size of small crabapples hang on the plant from autumn through winter. The dark green leaves turn bronzy red after the first deep frost and may stay on the tree all winter long. Grows to 25 feet tall and 15 to 20 feet wide. Zones 3-12, 14-21.

• Green hawthorn ( C. viridis 'Winter King'). Masses of red berries are displayed on naked branches after leaves turn yellowish and drop. Grows 25 to 30 feet tall and wide. Zones 2-12, 14-17.

Himalayan honeysuckle ( Leycesteria formosa). This deciduous shrub's other common name - Himalayan pheasantberry - hints at the appeal its fruits have for birds. The berries start out green but quickly turn red, then deep purplish black. Grows 6 feet tall and wide. Full sun or light shade. Zones 4-6, 14-17, 20-24.

Oregon grape ( Mahonia aquifolium). Native along much of the Pacific Coast, this evergreen shrub bears clusters of deep blue fruits among shiny, hollylike leaves. The species grows 6 feet tall and 5 feet wide; the variety 'Compacta' grows only 2 to 3 feet tall, but spreads 5 feet or more. Tolerates any exposure, although it prefers shade in hottest climates. Zones 2-12, 14-24.

Pyracantha. Commonly called firethorn, this shrub bears clusters of red, orange, or yellow berries that are the size of peas. Glossy foliage is evergreen (semievergreen in cold-winter climates). Species and varieties grow 3 to 15 feet tall and 4 to 10 feet wide. Full sun. Zones 3-24.

Strawberry tree (Arbutus unedo). Puffy fruits the size of olives turn from yellow when young to red when mature. The fruits are borne at the same time as urn-shaped flowers among dark evergreen leaves. The species ranges from 8 to 35 feet tall and wide; compact varieties reach only 5 to 8 feet tall. Full sun or partial shade (essential in desert areas). Zones 4-24.

Toyon or California holly ( Heteromeles arbutifolia). Clusters of bright red, pea-size fruits are borne among glossy dark green leaves. Grow this evergreen as a dense shrub (6 to 10 feet tall and wide) or pruned as a single-trunk tree (15 to 25 feet tall and nearly as wide). Full sun or partial shade. Zones 5-19, 14-24.

Viburnum. Among the many species, these three are top performers.

V. davidii. Clusters of metallic blue fruits appear among glossy dark green leaves. This evergreen shrub reaches 3 to 4 feet tall and wide. Partial shade. Zones 4-9, 14-24.

V. opulus. Upright clusters of fleshy red fruits hang on from autumn into winter. Its dark green leaves turn yellow, red, or reddish purple in fall before dropping. This deciduous shrub reaches 8 to 15 feet tall and wide. Full sun or partial shade. Zones 1-9, 14-24, A2-A3.

V. rhytidophyllum. Clusters of fruit turn from scarlet to black as they age. Commonly called leatherleaf viburnum, it bears long, deep green leaves with wrinkled tops and fuzzy undersides. This evergreen shrub grows 8 to 15 feet tall and 6 to 12 feet wide. Tolerates deep shade. Zones 3-9, 14-24.