By Laura Payne
STILLWATER, Okla. —
Since there is not much blooming in the garden during the winter, let us discuss what other plants provide interest this time of year. Many plants have beautiful berries, bark or structure attracting us outside even on gloomy winter days.
The Possumhaw Holly or Decideous Holly, Ilex decidua, “Warren’s Red” is covered in beautiful bright red berries this time of year. Deciduous, meaning, “falling off” is the term used to describe the trees that loose their leaves annually. Most of us, when picturing a holly, see an evergreen tree covered with spiky leaves. However, the deciduous holly has a smoother obovate leaf during most of the year, then bare branches with bright colorful red or yellow berries during the winter and into early spring. For us, the berries usually last until the Cedar Waxwings make their way into the garden, which is around late March or early April. The Cedar Waxwings feed in flocks and they will devour a deciduous holly very quickly so you have to be ready with your camera, or you will miss the feeding frenzy. The deciduous holly is hardy to zone 5, is adapted to most soil conditions, and prefers full sun and moist soils. It’s a great source of food for our feathered friends, so if you are looking to attract more birds and other wildlife into your yard, this is a great small tree or shrub. In order to have berries, you will need a male and female plant, and “Red Escort” is a very popular male pollinator. Oklahoma nurseryman Otis Warren discovered the female sport of Ilex decidua, we call “Warrens Red.”
Another attractive shrub providing winter interest is the Japanese Rose, Kerria japonica. This plant has vibrant green stems from the ground all the way to the tips.
It makes a great statement standing out among the gray bark of the trees during the winter months. Kerria japonica grows to about eight feet high and wide, prefers shade and moist, well-drained soils and is hardy to zone 4. In the spring, the Japanese Rose has brilliant yellow flowers and will bloom sporadically throughout the summer. This is a great plant to use to brighten up a shady area. The Oklahoma Proven Plant committee chose the Kerria Japonica as the perennial shrub in 2002.
For unique structure in the garden, the Yucca rostrata “Sapphire Skies” is a great choice. The foliage this time of year is more of a green but, in the summer, it turns a powder blue. It grows to about four feet tall and is deer-resistant. The leaves are narrow and very flexible. This yucca will grow in zone 5b making it one of the hardiest species of trunked yucca.
Laura Payne is the volunteer and events coordinator at The Botanic Garden at Oklahoma State University and a field producer for the TV program “Oklahoma Gardening.” Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.