Holiday decorating with landscape greens

Evergreen wreath with pinecones

By Dennis Patton

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. Southern churches decorated with elaborate garlands of holly, ivy, mountain laurel and mistletoe. Herbs such as lavender, rosemary, bay leaves and rose petals were used to infuse lively scents throughout the display.

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

Greenery gathered from the garden is as fresh as it gets. When you gather branches and boughs remember you are pruning your plants. Consider carefully which branches to cut. Make the proper cut to preserve its natural look.

Before heading to the yard think about your needs, and how the greenery will be used. This will determine the length and number of pieces needed. 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.

Keeping greenery fresh

Once cut keep your plant materials fresh for as long as possible. Here are some tricks to extend the life of the greenery.

  • Use clean, sharp shears to cut. Place cut stems in 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 spray with an antitranspirant to seal in moisture. Use with caution on juniper berries and blue spruce as it can damage the wax coating that give these plants their distinctive color.
  • Keep greenery out of direct sunlight. Replace dried crispy limbs throughout the season for a fresh look.

Decorating safely

Dried evergreens are flammable. Make sure these items remain fresh, green and pliable. If the greenery snaps when bent or the needles shed, consider replacing with fresh materials.

Never place greenery near heat sources such as heaters, vents or a fireplace. 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.

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 gathered a supply of fresh plant materials to create your own wreaths, garland, potted arrangements and centerpieces let your imagination flow.

Inspiration for holiday décor can be found in 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.

Dennis Patton is horticulture agent at the Johnson County K-State Research and Extension Office.