Garden Variety: Colorful fruit creates late season interest in garden

Many landscapes and gardens look a little blah right now, with faded flowers and fallen foliage. Carefully planned gardens still have a few shining stars however, usually in the form of brightly colored fruit or interesting seedheads, bark, or branch structure. Fruit in particular can be especially stunning for late fall and winter color.

Beautyberry, coralberry, holly, mahonia, pyracantha and winterberry are a few options for adding color to the garden with late-season fruit. Look around for them now if you can to experience their full splendor, whether it be in the neighborhood, public gardens, or a local garden center. Plants can even be added to the landscape this fall to add interest now and get a jump start for next year.

Beautyberry produces brilliant, glossy purple berries borne in clusters along erect stems. Leaves are a rather mundane green, so the plant is best tucked in with spring and summer performers. There are two species — Callicarpa americana, native to the southeastern U.S., and Callicarpa dichotoma which is native to portions of Asia. Both species may die back to the ground in especially cold winters but are otherwise hardy and have few pests. Beautyberry grows in full sun to part shade.

Coralberry is named for its coral-colored berries. They are produced in clusters along the stem much like beautyberry, but the plant is much more delicate with tender stems that arch over at the ends. The species is native to much of the Midwest and easily found in wooded areas. It is probably best in native or woodland landscapes. There are a few cultivated varieties for those who prefer a more kempt look.

Hollies are iconic for their evergreen foliage and bright red berries that persist through the fall and winter. There are many cultivars with primary variations in size and leaf color. Hollies are dioecious, meaning there are male and female plants, so plan to include one male for every three to five female (berry-producing) plants. Hollies typically grow best in full sun to partial shade (preferably in afternoon) with protection from winter wind.

Mahonia (Oregon grapeholly) has evergreen leaves like holly but is unrelated. The big giveaway is in the deep blue to black berries produced on mahonia plants. This is a good evergreen ornamental plant for partial to full shade and grows best with a little winter protection also. Plants may sucker, but shoots can be removed to maintain single stems. Plant mahonia in groups as best fruiting occurs with cross-pollination.

Pyracantha, also known as firethorn, bears bright orange to red berries in fall and winter. There are several species and cultivars available ranging in size and fruit production. The downside of pyracantha is that the plants have thorns, except for a newer thornless cultivar. Besides adding fall and winter interest with its pretty fruit, the plant works well as a hedge or screen. It is considered invasive in California and Georgia but is not known to be a problem in Kansas.

Winterberry produces bright red berries. It is a holly but drops its leaves in the fall, making the berries an even greater standout. It is native to eastern North America and prefers wet areas in full sun to partial shade. There are many cultivars selected for heavy berry production and a broad range of sizes. Winterberry is dioecious like other hollies, so plan to plant one male to pollinate a group of females.

— Jennifer Smith is a former horticulture extension agent for K-State Research and Extension and horticulturist for Lawrence Parks and Recreation.