I have had one male and three females of winterberry bushes for many years, and notice this year the male seems to have died. All berries were produced as usual on the females, but I am concerned if the male is dead, could I still have berries next year? Also, is it possible to just buy a new male plant and plant it next spring?
The Gardener’s Answer
Winterberry hollies (Ilex verticillata) are such a treat during the winter months. These native shrubs grow best in well-drained soil and full sun, at least six hours per day. It sounds like the females in your garden are happy so I’m wondering if the male is planted in a different space?
They will tolerate part sun but not dense shade. The male apparently did its job this growing season because your females have berries. Or perhaps there is another male in a nearby garden? One male can pollinate up to five females within a one-acre radius, but ideally they should be planted closer together.
You can determine the viability of your male by scraping a small surface of the bark to reveal the cambium layer. If you find it to be green then it is still alive, but if it is brown all the way through it is not. If this is the case, go ahead and remove it and in the spring add another to the garden. If it did not survive you may want to rethink the planting space. Available sunlight and soil conditions can change over the years. It is always good to know why a plant didn’t survive so we don’t make the same mistake twice.