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How to Care For Winterberry Holly

May 30, 2022



These shrubs produce those bright red berries you commonly see over the holidays.

Winterberry holly is dioecious (dye-oh-ee-shus, Greek for “two houses”). In other words, each plant bears only one type of flower: those that will turn into berries (a female plant) or those that bear pollen (a male plant). This means that to get a beautiful, berry-covered winterberry holly, you must plant both a male and a female

Winterberry Holly Red Sprite


Male hollies will never develop berries, so they aren’t very showy. Fortunately, you only need to plant one to pollinate up to five female plants. The male and females can be planted anywhere within about 50’/15.25m of one another, so you can use your prime real estate for the showy female(s) and tuck the male plant in an out-of-the-way spot in your landscape.

Provide by Proven Winners


Although it looks like it may be imported, it’s a native plant that grows in acidic swamps, rivers, and ponds throughout the United States. The most striking feature of winterberry is the bright red berries growing from the thick bush that holds them in bunches. There are many different cultivars each with different physical features, so one care guide may not cover them all.

MVG Varieties

Little Goblin® Orange winterberry holly lights up the darkest season with dozens of extra-large, bright orange berries. Smaller habit makes it much more landscape-friendly than other winterberry hollies – Little Goblin Orange is just 3-4′ (.9-1.2 m) tall and wide. To get fruit, you will need to plant Little Goblin® Guy winterberry holly as a pollinator – one Little Goblin® Guy will pollinate up to 5 Little Goblin® Orange and/or Little Goblin® Red plants. Plant the male within 50′ (15.2 m) of the female varieties to ensure a heavy berry set.

Little Goblin® Guy winterberry holly is a male pollinator for Little Goblin® Orange and Little Goblin® Red. Though it will not bear fruit itself, it plays a crucial role in getting the best from the female varieties. Little Goblin® Guy blooms at the same time as the female Little Goblin varieties, guaranteeing a good crop of showy berries all winter long. 

Little Goblin® Red is a dwarf shrub with excellent year-round interest. This deciduous holly produces abundant small greenish-white flowers in late spring that are followed by a profusion of bright, extra-large red berries in the fall and winter. Little Goblin Red is a female plant and needs a male pollinator, such as Little Goblin Guy to produce attractive red berries.

Deciduous Shrub

Wintergreen holly is a deciduous shrub- not an evergreen.

Winterberry holly leaves are dark green and elliptical, about two to three inches long. Greenish-white flowers appear on female plants in spring, which, if properly pollinated by a male plant, produce a dense crop of bright red berries in the fall.

This is what allows it to show off those gorgeous red berries all winter long. This attracts birds and adds some color to any garden.

Winterberry Holly Shrub


Choosing the right location is key. You should seek out an area with full sun and well-draining soil.

This plant loves acidic soil and requires it to grow properly. The soil should be between 3-6 pH, ideally between 4-5. If you don’t know your soil’s pH, it’s strongly suggested that you buy a soil meter.

Transplanting it later will be a hassle so it’s efficient to get it right from the start.

If your soil is too alkaline, you can reduce the pH naturally by using peat moss.

Mix the soil with organic peat moss and cover the top 12” of depth with this soil/peat moss mixture.

This should reduce the pH drastically. Test it again to ensure the pH is in the proper range.

Slow Growing

Winterberry grows slowly and vertically. Some cultivars can grow horizontally, but only by a few feet.

Most strains grow vertically up to 15 feet in height, so you’ll need plenty of vertical space for them to prosper.

Suckers form readily with dark green narrow leaves that are about 3 inches in length. From spring to fall, the plant is a sleeper with nothing to show.

Winterberry Holly Shrub
Little Goblin Orange Winterberry Holly


Winterberry prefers fairly wet conditions. Do not plant it in dry soil or a dry climate unless you are willing to water it frequently. This plant will require at least one inch of water per week, either through rainfall or irrigation.


Winterberry holly usually doesn’t require feeding unless growth is very slow. Where needed, 1/2 cup of balanced 10-10-10 fertilizer applied each spring usually is sufficient. Feeding with a fertilizer designed for acid-loving plants can help modify soil pH levels if a soil test reveals soil that is neutral or too alkaline.

Winter Hollyberry
Winterberry Holly


Because the flowers (and resulting berries) appear on new growth, winterberry holly should be pruned to shape in early spring, just before new growth appears. Pruning is recommended because these shrubs not only grow tall, they also sucker profusely if not controlled. Remove up to (but no more than) 1/3 of the branches each year. Target the oldest branches, and prune them down to ground level.

Facts & Tips

If given the proper care and room for growth, winterberry holly plants can live up to 100 years.

If your winterberry hollies experience drought stress, they may not form fruit or may drop any fruit that was beginning to form. In dry soils, provide plenty of water and a good 2-3”/5-7cm layer of mulch to prevent plants from drying out too much.

Prune up to 30% of the branches completely. And repeat this every year. Cut the oldest branches first and cut them down to the soil level.

Birds love winterberries because it’s one of their nutritious food sources during the cold winter months when bugs and insects disappear.

Powdery mildew is a result of poor air circulation and excess moisture buildup.

Winterberry Holly