Michigan Holly

ilex-verticillata-berries.jpgIlex 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.

Michigan-holly.jpgThe 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.

Michigan holly (2)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.

Michigan holly (3)berried holiday containers

Michigan holly (4)winter berry

Michigan holly (6)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.

Michigan holly (7)Red berries in a lighted container will look like fire when the daylight wanes.

fierySee what I mean?



  1. Geez I love that Ilex! I wonder why you have not experienced the easy growing they say it is. I was going to plant a few here in Minnesota as this berries sure cheer up the winter landscape.
    Needless to say, Deborah, what you do with it is spectacular indeed! Thanks.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Greg, I planted a row of them, when I had a 5 acre piece of property-in a too dry spot, too far from the hose. They just never took off-Plants want what they want, and if they don’t get that, they sulk! best, Deborah

  2. Starr Foster says

    I love those bright red berries, especially with the lights at the bottom. It does look like fire! You have inspired me to try this.

    I often see the native Michigan holly in wet areas; the branching is always loose and they grow like small trees. Even so, they are bright and beautiful in the woods. I am glad to know that you like the Winter Red cultivar for your berries, because I have been wanting to plant some here. The Vapor Gard is a great suggestion; do you sell it or know where I can find it? I’m thinking that gallon would be good to have for all rhodos and evergreens to keep them from drying out. Thanks again for all the beauty you create, and especially for sharing it with us.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Starr, you can buy Vapor Gard by the gallon from Debbie and Ken Day, at the Oakland County Farmer’s market. It runs right around 100.00 per gallon. You dilute it one part VG to 20 parts of water. We can sell it to you by the ounce. It works amazingly well. It works best at 50 degrees, and has to be applied when there is no threat of rain. Thanks, Deborah

  3. So beautiful! Even in the daytime without the lights the planters look like they are on fire. Gorgeous. I do have a question though regarding the anti-descant…..is it safe for the birds to eat the berries after they have been sprayed with it? Is it environmentally safe? I have never used anything like this so haven’t got a clue what it is.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Michele, if you research Vapor Gard, you will find that it is an all natural derivative of pine resin. It is a natural water soluble wax. best, Deborah

  4. Mark Becker says

    Thank you for all you share through your blog. Just beautiful! Always inspires me.

    I usually use Wilt-Pruf. Does the Vapor Gard work that much better? Do you use it on all the greens in your designs?

    • Deborah Silver says

      Mark, in my opinion, it is that much better-which makes it worth it when you are doing work for clients. I always do boxwood and winter berry-sometimes other greens, depending on the exposure the greens will get. Thanks, Deborah

  5. Those two burning bushes at the end are real show stoppers. I could feel the heat.
    So beautiful. I’m a gonna steal that idea! Thanks.

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