How to Grow and Care for Common Snowberry

Common snowberry plant branch with small ovate leaves and tiny white berries and pink flower buds

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

The common snowberry (Symphoricarpos albus) is a deciduous shrub that produces pink flowers and white fruit. The snowberry's light green leaves are ovate, rounded, or elliptical. They measure up to 2 inches long. Clusters of tiny pink flowers appear at the ends of the branches in late spring to summer; it's self-pollinating. It's a great addition to many types of gardens and is a showy, globe shape for the landscape. Hearty and relatively easy to care for, if you plant this shrub, birds are sure to come for a feast upon the drupes. This plant is native to the U.S. and Canada, so it's not considered invasive; it is invasive in the United Kingdom. All parts of this shrub are toxic to humans.

Common Name Common snowberry, waxberry, ice apple, white coralberry, snowberry
Botanical Name Symphoricarpos albus
Family Caprifoliaceae
Plant Type Deciduous, flowering shrub, rhizome
Mature Size 3-4 ft. tall and wide
Sun Exposure Full, partial
Soil Type Clay, sandy, rocky, well-drained
Soil pH Acidic and alkaline (6.0 to 8.5)
Bloom Time May to August
Flower Color White, pink
Hardiness Zones 3-7 (USDA)
Native Area North America
Toxicity Toxic to people

Common Snowberry Care

The best USDA zones for the common snowberry are 3 through 7. It originally comes from North America and can tolerate dry or poor soils. The drupes—fruit with flesh surrounding a shell or pit—are attractive when they turn snow-white by the time they are mature. The spread voraciously and sucker removal is encouraged so this plant does not overtake your garden.

The common snowberry will reach a mature size of 3- to 6-feet tall and wide, creating a rounded shape. A full sun to partial shade location will provide the best growing conditions. Use the common snowberry as part of a dry woodland garden. It can handle drought spells as long as the roots have had a chance to anchor themselves deep into the soil. It can also tolerate poor soils where other plants may fail. Except for during the germination and seedling period, this plant does not grow well in containers.

Birds like their fruit, making it a good shrub choice for a wildlife garden. Birds may become a nuisance if you prefer to enjoy the beauty of the white drupes throughout fall and winter.

Common snowberry shrub branches with light green leaves and small pink flowers covering wall

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Common snowberry shrub branches covered with leaves and white berries on ends

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Common snowberry shrub with branches covered in leaves and tiny flower buds

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Light

Plant snowberries in full sun or partial shade. The best flowering will occur in a site that receives full sunlight, but the plant will still flower if planted in part shade. It can be grown in full shade, but it may not produce snowberries proficiently.

Soil

Snowberries can grow in a wide variety of soils. These plants prefer clay but can also grow well in sandy and rocky soils. Snowberries are commonly found growing along streams and swampy thickets, and they grow in dry areas, too.

Water

Water snowberry regularly until it is established, about an inch of water per week. It can go longer between watering after its established. This shrub is drought-resistant; give it additional water during very hot or dry periods. 

Temperature and Humidity

Symphoricarpos albus is cold hardy, capable of resisting frost, and surviving a harsh winter. As a zone 3 plant, it can tolerate temperatures as low as -40 F. It can tolerate all humidity levels.

Fertilizer

If the snowberry plant is in clay or other nutrient-deprived soils, fertilize once in the spring and mid-summer. If planted in organic, enriched soil, only fertilize once in the spring. Use a balanced, water-based 20-20-20 NPK (nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium) fertilizer that works well, or if using granular fertilizer, plan on working about 2 pounds per 100 square feet of soil.

Types of Common Snowberry

Variegata is a cultivar that bears variegated leaves. The horticultural variety of laevigatus also shares this trait. Other close relations to common snowberry include Symphoricarpos chenaultii, which grows much like a ground cover bearing pinkish fruits, and Symphoricarpos orbicalitus, which bears distinctive stark red fruits. Other varieties of common snowberry grow about 4 feet tall; they vary by their berries:

  • 'Bright Fantasy': Produces larger, snow-white berries
  • 'Charming Fantasy': Produces larger, pink-tinged berries
  • 'Scarlet Pearl': Produces larger, pink berries
  • 'Magical Candy': A compact form that produces a mass of tiny pink flowers in summer and pink fleshy berries.
  • 'Magical Galaxy': Has yellow-green leaves, white flowers in summer, and lush white berries in fall.

Pruning

Growing snowberry as a hedge will require regular pruning, which is best done in spring. Do not prune in summer; you might not have any berry production if you do. Only trim after the plant has completed fruiting. Balance the shape or reduce the size of the branches. Remove dead wood and fragile branches. You can prune it down to the ground (leave about 1 foot of growth) in early spring.

Propagating Common Snowberry

This shrub likes to produce suckers and will naturally spread. One of the easiest ways to propagate snowberries is using its own suckers. Dig up a sucker, snip it, and plant it where you want a new shrub to grow. Propagation by cuttings or suckers is best done at the end of summer and fall. You can also propagate these plants by taking stem cuttings, root cuttings, or germinating the seeds. Pruning or stem cutting encourages denser growth, keeping your plant looking neat and tidy. Here's how to propagate by cuttings:

To propagate by stem cuttings:

  • You'll need sterilized pruning snips, cutting or seedling soil mix, and a container. Rooting hormone is optional.
  • Cut a new stem (grown in the current season), taking a 4- to 6-inch long segment, using sterilized pruning snips.
  • Place the cutting in a pot with the cut-end of the stem down (optionally, apply rooting hormone to the cut-end). Bury the cut-end an inch or two deep. Place it outdoors, out of the direct sun, and maintain constant moist soil to encourage rooting.
  • Transplant it in the ground or move it into a larger pot the following spring.

To propagate by root cuttings:

  • Dig beneath a snowberry shrub; you will find roots that spread out in all directions.
  • Cut out a foot-long segment using sterilized pruners and transplant it where you want it to grow.
  • Make sure its soil is well-draining, and keep the soil moist until you see new growth.

How to Grow Common Snowberry From Seed

Although you can grow snowberry shrubs from seeds, cutting or transplanting suckers will give you faster results. Some snowberry seeds can remain dormant in the soil for 10 years. The seed coat of snowberries is tough, and germination is lengthy. You'll find it best to stratify and scarify the seeds to improve the germination rate. With scarification, you cut or weaken the seed coat so that it can germinate. Stratifying the seeds tricks the seed into thinking winter has passed, and it's time to grow.

Each berry contains two seeds. Remove the seeds from the berries and clean off the moist berry covering. Knick the hard seed cover or lightly sand it, which will allow moisture and warmth to enter the seed. Plant the seed in a well-drained planting medium, in a small potting container, barely covering it with soil. Moisten the soil by misting it. To soften the seed coat further and encourage germination, keep the seed at 75 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit for 90 days.

Next comes stratifying the seed. Move the seed flat to a refrigerator, basement, or space that can stay consistently at 40 degrees Fahrenheit for 180 days. The seeds should germinate. Once you have seedlings, overwinter them indoors for their first season. Transplant them outdoors after the threat of frost is gone.

Overwintering

This shrub produces berries that are a necessary form of food for wildlife during the winter season. It is cold hardy, and can sustain cool, harsh temperatures. Since it is delicate in its first growing season, you should overwinter seedlings indoors in temperatures above freezing with light exposure; partial sun works best.

Common Pests & Plant Diseases

This plant is susceptible to anthracnose, berry rot, leaf spot, powdery mildew, and rusts. Most garden pests stay away from the plant, except the Vashti sphinx moth (Sphinx vashti) and snowberry clearing moth, which favors its leaves for its caterpillars. It may get aphids, best controlled with insecticidal soap or horticultural oil.

Common Problems With Common Snowberry

Common snowberry is a resilient plant; its biggest susceptibility is fungi. Although, it can be kept in check with good air circulation and watering at the base—not overhead.

Limp, Wilting, or Scorched Leaves

Even though snowberry is drought tolerant, any woody plant that gets limp, curling, starts to brown, or gets scorched can be sorely lacking water. Water immediately to prevent plant death. If the crown dries out, the entire plant goes with it. A sign the plant is not getting enough water is it produces fewer and smaller leaves.

Spots on Leaves or Stems

Anthracnose is characterized by lesions on green stems, leaves, flowers, and fruits. If spots form as leaves emerge in the spring, it is caused by fungi. The spots may appear as dark brown lesions that become bleached, then the lesion expands. It can cause blackened fruit. Also, plant growth can become stunted, and berries can dry out and die. To control fungal growth, remove diseased leaves and branches. Apply a copper-based fungicide. To prevent it, prune crowded branches to improve airflow around the plant; also, water at the base at the plant; do not water from overhead. Overly moist environments encourage fungal growth.

Dying Branches

Inspect the shrub carefully for scale insects. Although rare, they can infest a snowberry shrub. Scale feeds on the sap of the shrub, killing the branch. To control scale, use horticultural oil when the plant is in dormancy or the growing season when young yellow crawlers are active, usually early summer. Apply the oil before the crawlers develop hard, impenetrable scale armor that protects it against control measures.

FAQ
  • What wildlife are attracted by the snowberry shrub?

    Quails, grouse, pheasants, and bears like the berries of this plant. Rabbits and mice eat the stems; while elk and white-tailed deer feed on the leaves.

  • If snowberry is such an aggressive grower, why isn't it considered invasive in the U.S.?

    A plant is only considered invasive if it is not native and spreads out of control, smothering other plant life. It is invasive in the United Kingdom. But since snowberry is native to North America, it is not an American invasive species. Snowberry can still overtake a yard if you do not prune its suckers and take root prevention measures like an underground plastic barrier that prevents the roots from spreading.

  • What are alternatives to common snowberry?

    Creeping snowberry (Gaultheria hispidula) is a short ground cover shrub, only growing about 4 inches off the ground. Unlike common snowberry, which is in the honeysuckle family, creeping snowberry is in the heath or heather family. Creeping snowberry is an excellent alternative since its berries are not toxic to humans. It produces similar-looking white berries shaped more like a small white egg, while the common snowberry has more spherical fruits.

Article Sources
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  1. North Carolina Extension Gardener Plant Toolbox. Symphoricarpos albus (Common snowberry, upright snowberry, white snowberry).