This is the time of year when we start taking stock of what looks good, what held up through the winter, and plants we might be composting come spring. I tend to favor shrubs with the ability to add structure and interest in the border during the winter months, and bayberry is a shrub that easily fits the bill as a dependable native shrub that shines in the New England winter landscape.
Native to North America, with a heavy presence along the coastline, bayberry (Myrica pensylvanica) thrives under a variety of unsavory conditions that many other shrubs would hold up a white flag to. Neither salt, nor wind, nor drought will put little Myrica pensylvanica asunder. Although bayberry would prefer a moist acidic soil, it will tolerate sandy or clay soils without complaint. Happy in full sun, but accepting of part shade, it is hardy to zones 3 – 7 and grows to about 5′ to 10′ tall and wide. (You can easily keep it compact with an annual spring pruning).
But what makes this shrub so noteworthy, you ask? For starters, it is a pleasant form in a garden bed or used as a hedge or grouping, as well as for erosion control. It has dense branching and a rounded stature that makes it complimentary to other shrubs or perennials. The sturdy, leathery leaves are slightly glossy and remain a rich green through the summer and well into the fall. If you have males to pollinate and a receptive female, you will see frosted blue berries along the stems in late summer. These aromatic berries are used for making bayberry candles and soaps, but are equally attractive to birds. Whenever I prune or work around bayberry, I am reminded of my grandmother, who adored her bayberry candles. And although the scent is desirable to us, it is despised by visitors like deer and bunnies, which helps it to remain an untouched member in the landscape.
Saving the best for last; Myrica pensylvanica’s superior winter foliage, which is often disregarded by gardeners. Because bayberry holds its leaves through the winter, I consider it to be semi-evergreen. By December, the leaves have turned a deep burnished bronze, and are simply not to be ignored. (Bring some branches in for decorating!) Two bayberries flank the front entrance walkway to my home, and for good reason. When all other deciduous shrubs have shed their attire, Myrica pensylvanica holds the evergreen scene together with its humble demeanor. If I had to say anything contrary about bayberry, it would be the potential for suckering, which it has done in one garden bed. This may or may not be a consideration for you, if so, plant it where it can expand its horizons without restriction. Whatever you decide, don’t spend another year without adding the phenomenal bayberry to your property~
** For other trees that look fabulous in winter visit: WINTER BONES **