Beautyberry – Callicarpa Americana
Don't Prune that Beautyberry
Within the past few decades, a native American shrub has been slowly making the transition from it woodland and forest habitat to backyards throughout New Jersey. What’s puzzling about it is just how long it took homeowners to realize that Callicarpa American (Beautyberry) is both an attractive addition to any landscape as well as a valuable source of food for many types of wildlife. Most of the time though, you’ll look at it and wonder why it’s name alludes to beauty? Then bam, fall arrives and this plant gets busy.
With a bountiful collection of bright purple berries in cluster everywhere, it soon is obvious that this plant indeed deserves its name. The berries are dazzling and accented by the foliage of the leaf makes it one of the most eye-catching of any fruit or berry. Folklore has it that the berries unique lavender color acted like a road sign telling the migratory songbirds “come eat me – fill up here”. An easy to find source of food for the birds whom reward the plant by spreading its seeds from within their droppings.
Because the berries remain on the shrub well into the harsh winter months they are a premium source of food for many species of birds from Baltimore orioles, catbirds, thrushes, robins and other migratory species and also quail at times.
A deciduous shrub, beautyberry as a rule grows between 4 and 6 feet in height with a 3 to 5 ft span or girth. They grow best in fertile loamy soil, but will grow well in most soil types inclusive of dry clay soils. The ideal place for a beautyberry is in a site that ranges from full sun to part shade, ideally being in the full sun no more than 5 to 6 hours a day.
Having small and a bit pale lilac flower, coupled with the berries and its handsome foliage it make a great addition to any shade garden and is often used as a border plant. When planted alone, its branches will arch downward creating a most pleasant and pleasing angelic look.
Like any other native plant, the beautyberry requires minimum maintenance and less water than many other ornamental shrub or plant. Pruning should be done ONLY in late winter and early spring.
There are two (2) pruning methods. The easiest is to cut the plant back to within 6 inches of the ground. It will grow back with a neat, rounded shape. This will keep the plant small and compact in size. Beautyberry doesn’t need pruned every year if you utilize this method.
The other way is to remove one-quarter to one-third of the oldest branches closest to the ground every year. If you go with this method the shrub will be taller growing to 8 ft or more in height and you will then completely renew the plant using the other method of cutting to the ground every 4 or 5 years.
Want a new look in the garden beds? Add a beautyberry here or there with a little décor. A word of caution: be ready for a bevy of questions from your friends and neighbors wanting to know what that plant is and where did you get it?
And as long as we’re talking about good sources of food for the birds here’s the lowdown on a wee tad of old tyme folklore – Birds can’t eat Peanut Butter??? – This is another complete falsehood, and there is no recorded evidence of peanut butter ever being a problem for birds. Peanut butter is actually a very nutritious treat, high in calories and fat content, that many bird species prefer, including nuthatches, chickadees, woodpeckers and jays.
Be seeing ya next month with another tad of advice for the feathered friends. Be a bit colder by then. Alas, I’m going to enjoy this pleasant weather we are in store for. It’ll most likely be pretty much the end of it. Happy Gardening…….