Thursday 19 April 2018

Snowberry glistens

Symphoricarpos albus (common snowberry) branches with berries
Symphoricarpos albus (common snowberry) branches with berries

Gerry Daly

Snowberry is well named for its glistening white berries and it is familiar to a lot of people as it grows in shrubberies, hedges and ditches all over the country. It has pure snow-white berries in a range of sizes between the size of a pea and a cherry, often carried in clusters at the tip of the shoots. Although it draws attention to itself, it is not edible and not taken by birds either.

There are more berries than usual on snowberry plants this year. The flowers are tiny, pink in colour and hardly noticeable tucked away amid the leaves in summer. Nor are the berries very visible either until the last of the leaves fall, which happened in the last couple of weeks. The last few yellow leaves can look very attractive along with the pearl-like berries.

While the shrub is well known and grows all over the country, it would appear to be native but it is not. It is native to the western coastal states of North America. Planted originally as cover for pheasants it has found its way into hedges and woodlands. This shrub suckers readily at the roots and spreads outwards to make a broad thicket several metres across. It could keep on spreading but it tends to run into an obstacle, such as a large tree or heavy shade. It has been known to get under garden walls, its root suckers passing under the foundations. It looks well under tall trees as a kind of groundcover but this ordinary kind is generally too vigorous for gardens and it is likely that many stands of it originated as garden discards.

The ordinary snowberry is the one seen growing semi-wild. There are other kinds that are better behaved.

'Mother of Pearl' has a drooping habit and white berries with a pink flush. 'White Hedge' has a compact growth habit and is upright with white fruits. 'Hancock' is low and spreading, often rooting where it touches the soil, and it has pink berries. 'Magic Berry' is low and bushy with rose-pink berries.

Although it tolerates light shade very well, the shrub produces more berries if grown in sunshine, at least for part of the day. It can look very pretty dotted with white berries caught in the winter light against a shaded background.

In a shady place, the foliage takes on a lovely softness, almost flimsy in appearance. The plant grows in any kind of soil that is not waterlogged but thrives best in well-drained leafy soil such as that found in woodland, similar to its natural habitat.

Is my cyclamen rotting in wet compost?

"I planted winter pansies, violas, mini-cyclamen and cyclamen in my window boxes in late September. The compost is very wet and the cyclamen may be rotting. I have deadheaded but little further flowering has occurred. Do I need to dry out window boxes and if so how? Also, should I fertilise to encourage growth and if so, with what type of product?" Yvonne, Co Louth

While mini-cyclamen can be grown outdoors, the large-flowered cyclamen is not an outdoor plant as it needs a cool room indoors. Growth is running down now. Ensure that drainage from the boxes is working and that there is no undue drip from the roof or gutters. No feeding is necessary now, but you could liquid feed in early spring as growth picks up.

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