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Holiday Decorating with Fresh Greenery

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Christmas greenery decorating front entrance of a house

Decorating the home for the holidays has been a tradition for generations. The use of fresh greenery started as a southern tradition in colonial days and eventually moved north. Southern churches decorated with elaborate garlands of holly, ivy, mountain laurel, and mistletoe. Herbs such as lavender, rosemary, bay and rose petals were used to scatter the scents throughout the display.

Today decorating for the holiday with fresh greenery is a continuing tradition. Fresh premade wreaths and garland can be purchased and used to add a festive touch to the holiday décor. Purchasing these items is not always necessary as a fresh cut supply of holiday greenery may be as close as your backdoor. Many locally grown plants can be made and used in holiday decorating.

Gathering greenery

Dried hydrangea flowers

The first and best place to look is in your landscape. Greenery gathered from the garden is as fresh as it gets. When you gather branches and bows remember that in reality you are pruning your plants. Consider carefully which branches to cut and which ones to leave. Make the proper cut and prune evenly around the plant to preserve its natural look.

Hand pruners are all that will be needed for cutting the limbs. Before heading to the yard think about your needs and how the greenery will be used. This will help determine the length and number of pieces needed for the decoration. If you are holding the materials before decorating, place cut stems in water and store in a cool, shady location outdoors to reduce drying out.

What to collect

Magnolia seed pod
Evergreens are the backbone of the decorating. But don’t overlook deciduous twigs and plants with berries to add even more interest to a design. Some of the more common plants include:

  • Pine: Great needle retention and fragrance.
  • Juniper: Fragrant, short green or silver foliage, oftentimes with outstanding blue berries.
  • Arborvitae: Bright light green color and unique form to add to the arrangement.
  • Spruce: Stiff branches and short needles, blue spruce add another color element.
  • Yews: Nice shiny green foliage to add texture.
  • Boxwood: Small rounded leaves which provides a different plant form.  Note some boxwoods can have an odor.
  • Magnolia: The southern types have very large course, shiny leaves that make a statement.
  • Holly: Traditional holiday green which may have bright red berries.
  • Nandina: This shrub can have large hanging red berries resembling a cluster of grapes.
  • Viburnum: Various colors of red or blue berries may be snipped and added for interest.
  • Crabapples: Some varieties have persistent fruit which means they hang into the winter.

Other landscape plants to use would include acorns, bittersweet, hydrangea blossoms, lotus pods, pine cones, pyracantha, and sweetgum balls.

These are just a few examples of landscape plants that can be used. Let your imagination flow. There are many dried seed heads or pods that can also be used to create a wreath, garland or arrangement. Purchased items either fresh or man-made can supplement your design. But what fun to show off your creations with plant materials from the landscape.

Keeping greenery fresh

Juniper berries
Once cut it is important to keep your plant materials fresh for as long as possible. Here are some tricks to extending the life.

  • Use clean, sharp cutters to remove the stem.  Place cut ends into water until ready to use.
  • Immerse greenery in water overnight before arranging. This allows the cuttings to absorb the maximum amount of moisture.
  • Recut the stems when decorating and crush the ends of woody stems to allow more water uptake.
  • Allow the foliage to dry and then spray with an antitranspirant to help seal in moisture.  Use with caution on juniper berries and blue spruce as it can damage the wax coating that gives these plants their distinctive color.
  • Keep greenery out of direct sunlight. Replace dried limbs as needed during the season for a fresh look.

Decorating safely
Dried evergreens are flammable when in contact with a heat source such as a candle. Make sure these items remain as fresh as possible. If the greenery snaps when bent or the needles shed consider replacing the limbs with fresh materials. Never place greenery near heat sources such as heaters, vents, or a fireplace.  Some even caution using the items in direct sunlight of a window or glass door as the reflective sunlight could cause issues. If you’re using electric lights in the display be sure they are in proper working order and rated for exterior use if displayed outdoors.

Some plants such as holly berries, yews, bittersweet, and mistletoe can be poisonous to pets and children. Always use caution when decorating with these items.

The rest is up to your imagination and creativity. Now that you have a supply of fresh plant materials to green your own wreaths, garland, and centerpieces let the juices flow. Great ideas and the inspiration for holiday décor can be found in a number of magazines and online. You may not have the same plant material available but visualize how your plant selection can mimic the design with color, texture and form. You will be amazed at what you can create to make the holidays just a little more special.

Source:  Information for this article: Clemson Extension, Holiday Decorating with Fresh Greenery.

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