Home for the Holly Daze

Editor’s note: This article is from the archives of the MSU Crop Advisory Team Alerts. Check the label of any pesticide referenced to ensure your use is included.

As winter sets in, gardeners across Michigan begin to wonder how they’ll possibly spend their time until spring comes once again. One cure for the gardener’s blues is to add plants with winter interest to the landscape.

What better way to add interest than with trees and shrubs that bear fruit? The fruit adds brilliant color to a drab Michigan winter while attracting birds to your backyard to boot.

Berried Treasure

Most of us conjure up memories of holly with prickly, deep-evergreen leaves. While evergreen hollies are always a favorite for decorating, a stunning Michigan native, Ilex verticillata, often gets overlooked. Just look to a native wetland this time of year and you may notice a brilliant red mist at the water’s edge, perched about six to eight feet high. This color will likely belong to one of the only native deciduous hollies that have proven through the years to be a valuable landscape plant as well.

In the wild, one may notice a wide range of berry color from deep crimson to an off-orange. Since the shrub has gained popularity with plant breeders because of its adaptability to wet sites, additional colors have been selected that even have yellow fruits.

One thing to think about before adding holly to your landscape is the need for BOTH male and female plants. Some of the beautiful cultivars including ‘Sparkleberry’, ‘Berry Heavy’ and ‘Winter Gold’ can be paired with a male pollinator such as ‘Jim Dandy’ or ‘Southern Gentleman.'

Nothing could be more beautiful than a mass of Michigan holly when graced with a fresh dusting of snow. The berries ripen in September and persist into December and January, although some cultivars will keep their fruit well into March or April.

Photo credit: Tim Wood, Spring Meadow Nursery.

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