The Complete Guide for Winterberry (Ilex Verticillata) Care

The Winterberry, otherwise known as the Ilex Verticillata or Common Winterberry, Winterberry, Michigan Holly, Black Alder, Ilex bronxensis, Ilex fastigiata, Ilex verticillata var. cyclophylla, Ilex verticillata var. fastigiata, Ilex verticillata var. padifolia, Ilex verticillata var. tenuifolia, is a somewhat well known shrub plant native to the Southeast, Northeast, and the Southwest of the United States.

Best known for its low maintenance and moderate growth, this shrub will likely liven up your house (or garden) with its dark green colored leaves. But, only if you learn how to take proper care of it for it to thrive.

Fortunately, this is exactly what we’ll cover in this Winterberry Care Guide. So let’s dive in.

The basic care guidelines you need to remember for your Winterberry are the following:

  • Water: The Winterberry needs evenly spread moist soil – try to avoid letting the soil dry out.
  • Light: Keep your Ilex Verticillata in an environment where it can receive partial to full sun on a daily basis. 
  • Soil: Make sure to keep the Winterberry in soil with moist but well-draining to poorly draining properties, so ideally, one that is made of loam and clay.

That’s it – sunlight, water and soil! The basic 3 fundamentals for all plant care, and with the Winterberry this is no exception. With these three elements, your leafy friend will live healthy and happy.

Ilex Verticillata care

Scientific / Botanical Aspects

In botanical terms, the Winterberry belongs to the Aquifoliaceae family, the genus Ilex and the species Verticillata, hence its scientific (or botanical) name Ilex Verticillata (EYE-leks ver-tiss-ih-LAY-tuh).

Other members from the Aquifoliaceae family include Boxleaf Holly ‘Brass Buckle’, Sky Pencil Japanese Holly, Black Alder ‘Winter Gold’, Purity Candytuft, Ilex Verticillata ‘Red Sprite’, Cassina and Possumhaw Holly.

As with other Ilex’s, the Winterberry is a deciduous plant, which means it will shed its leaves annually once autumn comes.

Growing Region

The Ilex Verticillata is used to growing in specific regions such as the states in Southeast, Northeast, and the Southwest of the United States.

Knowing your plant’s native region is very useful, as it can give you tips on which environment is best for your Winterberry. If you keep it in mind, you can try to replicate these conditions at home, and you’ll likely end with a healthier plant.

With this in mind, the Ilex Verticillata will be most used to the heat zones in the 5 – 8 region, as the plant hardiness level falls between 3a, 3b, 4a, 4b, 5b, 5a, 6a, 6b, 7a, 7b, 8a, 8b, 9b, 9a and the ideal climate zone is between 1, 1A, 1B, 2, 2A, 2B, 3, 3A, 3B, 4, 5, 6, 7, A2, A3.

Growth and Size


In terms of size and growth, the Winterberry is a relatively moderate grower, which makes things somewhat easy for any plant enthusiast.


But what exactly does this mean for your Winterberry? How large a pot should you consider, how tall, how wide can it get? Let’s jump in…

The Ilex Verticillata can grow up to 6′ – 10′ (180cm – 3m) in 6′ – 10′ (180cm – 3m) and 6′ – 10′ (180cm – 3m) in 6′ – 10′ (180cm – 3m). 

These dimensions make the Winterberry a relatively large shrub compared to others, so it’s best to keep this fact in mind since it will affect where you want to keep yours at home.

Also, expect it to grow in a wonderful rounded shape, which is something worthwhile to remember when making your garden landscape plans.

This is why experts recommend keeping an area of approximately 96″ – 120″ (240cm – 300cm) free so the Winterberry can spread to its best extent.


In terms of watering, the Winterberry is a fairly complicated plant to take care of.

This is mostly because it has a not so straightforward watering schedule and somewhat irregular watering needs.

Specifically, most experts agree that the Ilex Verticillata needs evenly spread moist soil – try to avoid letting the soil dry out.

Which is why it is considered a plant with relatively average needs in terms of water. 

Ilex Verticillata without leaves


As a rule of thumb, you should remember to keep your Winterberry in soil with moist but well-draining to poorly draining characteristics, as these will guarantee the right conditions for your plant to grow and thrive. 

When you consider this, this is why you should aim to choose soil that has good drainage, moist, and occasionally wet properties to keep the right moisture levels at all times. 

However, in our experience, the best solution to knowing the right amount of water for your Winterberry is with the ‘thumb’ technique. Basically, you insert your finger into the soil, and based if you feel the soil moist or dry, you determine if it needs any water, which is the most appropriate way to go about watering your leafy friend.

Soil Mix

As mentioned earlier, the Winterberry prefers to have soil with good drainage, moist, and occasionally wet properties at all times, reason why you need to make the soil mix out of loam and clay.

This is why most experts agree that the Winterberry requires soil with clay, loam (silt), and sand, which will give you the right conditions it needs.

In addition to this, expert gardeners recommend having preferably neutral to acid soil.

Light and Exposure

In terms of light & exposure, the Winterberry requires partial to full sun in order for it to thrive under the right conditions. 

Most experts agree that this shrub will do well as long as you keep it in partial to full sun, and it will be able to grow properly.

Specifically, we recommend that you place your Ilex Verticillata in from full or deep shade (no direct sunlight or at most 2 hours per day), to little to partial shade (only 2-6 hours of direct sunlight a day), to full and direct sun (more than 6 hours of direct sunlight per day).


Being a deciduous plant, the Winterberry will shed its leaves annually once autumn comes.

But, you can expect it to have its ‘prime-time’ during the spring (early, late), the summer (early, mid, late), the fall, and during the winter.


You can expect your Winterberry to flower around the spring months from April to June (spring).

The Winterberry produces some beautiful white, or green, gold/yellow and white flowers around this time of year.


The leaves from the Winterberry have a beautiful dark green color during most of the year.

In particular, they have a simple arrangement with a alternate organization in its leaves.

You can expect the leaves from your Ilex Verticillata to be around (1-3 inches) in size.

Ilex Verticillata and fruits

Attracts, Tolerance and Resistance

The Winterberry is well known for being able to attract butterflies and birds, so keep that in mind when choosing your plant, as you’ll likely end up finding one or another in your garden.

Additionally, it has a special tolerance for clay soil and wet soil, so don’t worry if any of these come along, your Ilex Verticillata will be fine.


How should you then organize your garden to include your new Winterberry? Here are some recommendations by expert gardeners.

Most Ilex Verticillata owners agree that this shrub will look great in most cottage gardens of all types. 

Other owners consider that they complement well most gardens of informal and cottage styles. 

In particular, the Winterberry’s best location within your garden is in hedges and screens, banks and slopes, beds and borders, and in ponds and streams, others use it for landscaping in a hedge, container, or a mass planting.


Even though we covered a lot of care information for your Winterberry, remember the basics: sunlight, soil and water, as these should be enough to grow a healthy plant at home.

Sebastian Moncada

I’m also a plant enthusiast and researcher. I’ve been privileged to have lived my whole life around the wilderness of Colombia and I’m happy to share everything I learn along the way. “Adopt the pace of nature. Her secret is patience” – Emerson.

Recent Posts