As the nights get colder, winterberries lose their leaves, says Prescott, and Stargazer Barn starts to harvest the berry-laden branches. Birds love to feast on the berries in the field, he says, and black bears that roam in the mountains where the plants are grown often knock down fences to dine on them, too.
Prescott says the perfume of Oriental lilies mingles with the scent of fresh-cut cedar to make this floral arrangement, called "Deck the Halls", smell "magical, like Christmas". The Oriental lilies are 'White Cup' and the greenery is 'Port Orford', a cedar picked from the evergreen forests that surround Stargazer Barn.
Now tuck in as many stems of winterberries as desired. Keep them going in the same direction as the already-assembled pine cuttings. Push them down far enough to hold them securely in the wire structure of the wreath. Toss any berries that fall off into a martini glass to display at your bar or on the mantle, or add them to a basket of potpourri in the guest bath (remove the berries when they start to go brown or shrivel). Keep winterberries away from pets; they can be toxic.
Grower Bill Prescott says winterberries are attractive enough to use by themselves in vases or other arrangements. If a few berries start to turn brown or wilt, just pick them off and discard them. Note: the ASPCA says winterberries are toxic to dogs, cats and horses. Avoid using winterberries around animals and children.
A gray urn comes to life with an arrangement of red winterberries and assorted greenery. In the wild, winterberries can be found growing in moist wooded areas, swamps or along streams and ponds. In the garden or landscape, the plants grow slowly and need little maintenance.
Ilex verticillata is a holly that loses its leaves in fall, leaving stems studded with berries. Commonly known as winterberries, ilex berries are available in bright red, orange or yellow; the yellow ones are great for Thanksgiving and fall arrangements, says grower Bill Prescott, of Stargazer Barn. "Winterberries grow all over the U.S.," he says. "Ours are bred for floral use, so they have long stems and nice, lateral branches that are dense with berries."
Bright red winterberries add cheerful color to swags of cut greenery. 'Berry Heavy' is a selection that bears a heavy crop of bright orange-red fruits. Choose 'Berry Nice' for lots of dark red, shiny berries.
Winterberry windowboxes, like this one, last a long time in cool weather. Tuck stems or sprigs of the berries into a box planted with dwarf conifers, decorated with pine cones or filled with cut greenery.
When you're ready to arrange your harvested winterberry branches, cut about an inch off each stem, at an angle. Strip off any berries that would be below the water line in your container, to help prevent bacteria from growing, and add fresh water and a floral preservative.
White tulips and lilies dress up little vases filled with evergreen cuttings and winterberry stems. J, a flower expert at uBloom.com, suggests slipping ribbons saved from last year's gifts over the vases. It's a quick and easy way to upcycle and recycle.