Ilex verticillata is a deciduous holly that goes by many common names. We call it Michigan holly, or winter berry. They say it is fairly easy to grow, but my my experience was not that successful. It is easy to spot when Michigan holly is thriving. The branches are loaded with dense clusters of bright red berries that are visible from a long ways away. They ask for a soil that is fairly moisture retentive, even swampy. There are newish cultivars that have especially bright red berries. Winter Red is a recommended cultivar for our zone. It is a strong growing mult stemmed shrub that matures to 8 or 9 feet tall.
The berries make it worth growing. But if you do not have space for such a large shrub, growers harvest and sell bunches of the berried branches in late fall. They are beautiful in fresh holiday arrangements that only need last for a week or two. Indoors, the berries will eventually rot and drop from house heat. Outdoors, they are longer lasting. Up until a few years ago, I almost always opted for faux berries in winter pots. Though the color of a berry pick cannot begin to approximate the color of the real thing, they could be counted on to last the whole winter. Once we started spraying our winter berry with Vapor Gard, our success improved dramatically. The berries stayed put, and stayed plump well into February. Vapor Gard is a professional grade anti desiccant which is only available in a gallon concentrate. Premixed wilt pruf in a spray bottle will help too. Be sure to soak the berries when there is no threat of rain, and let them dry.
A client for whom the holiday isn’t right without winter berry branches reports that in mid to late January, the birds discover the berries. One by one, they begin to disappear. The birds raiding the berries is a treasured part of his holiday experience.
This container has 6 bunches of Michigan holly in it. Bunches available at our farmer’s market come bunched together with a rubber band. We do not take the bunches apart- this disturbs too many berries. A bamboo stick inserted into the bottom of the bunch is what goes in the foam in the container. Michigan holly is beautiful, but it needs to be handled with care.