Harvesting Holiday Greens


by Karen Weiland, Advanced Master Gardener



I like to add to the festive mood of the holidays by using some of my landscape greens to decorate my planters and window boxes.  Wreaths, swags, and garlands can all be made from plants that are commonly found in the home landscape.

Some of the best materials to cut include balsam and douglas fir, yew, white pine, and juniper.  Don’t forget broadleaf evergreens such as euonymous, holly and variegated boxwood.  The best way to ensure freshness is to cut the materials yourself.  When gathering live greenery from your landscape consider carefully which branches to cut and which to leave.  Cut branches from trees and shrubs as if you were thinning them so you can maintain the beauty of the plant.   Make your slanted cut back to a bud, leaf or twig.  If you will not be using your cuttings right away, place the stems in water.  If pine branches cannot be cut from your tree or bush without leaving a big, inconspicuous hole, look for boughs at nurseries, garden centers, florists or Christmas tree sales.  Give it the Christmas tree test by bending a branch, if it is brown or it breaks, buy elsewhere.  Dried grasses, herbs, berries, cones, and seed pods can help add color and contrast to evergreen foliage.   I like to use red twig dogwood stems and bittersweet or the red berry heads of sumac to add festive color to my arrangements.  I have found that adding a little red spray paint to sumac berry heads makes them pop or show up in an arrangement better. Another go-to favorite is curly willow stems.  Spray paint them a festive color, maybe sprinkle on a little glitter and viola’, it’s a party of stems, greens, and berries in your planter box.

Cut greens can be used indoors, but will dry out rather quickly if the cut ends are not in water.

A few decorating tips – always use odd numbers of items and make pinecones more noticeable by painting the tips with exterior white paint.

The cut ends of woody stems should be crushed to allow them to take up water better.  Pines, firs, and cedars are best to use indoors as they are slower to dry and hold their needles better in warm indoor temperatures.  Anti-transpirant sprays are available to help cut down on moisture loss and somewhat extend the life of your cut greens but some may leave a sticky residue and should only be used on decorations that will be used outdoors or out of reach of “little” hands.  Evergreen arrangements can be a fire hazard as they age and dry, so avoid placing them near a fireplace, candles or other sources of heat or flame.   Be aware that flame retardants are not foolproof and the best precaution is to discard arrangements before they become dry and brittle.  If you have children or pets, avoid using greens with poisonous berries such as bittersweet, holly, yew, ivy and mistletoe.

Here’s an idea you may like to try for “sprucing” up your holiday tablescape.  Place some fresh cranberries into a clear glass container, filling it almost to the top.  I used an antique milk bottle.  Then place a variety of small evergreen twigs into the opening of the container and tie a ribbon or a length of homespun cloth with the edges frayed around the neck or top of your container.  I used 3 different kinds of evergreens for contrast.  When not in use place the arrangement in the refrigerator or a cool garage to keep it fresh.


Happy holidays and as always, Happy Gardening!


More information about gardening and related subjects is available online at http://www.hort.purdue.edu/ext/garden_pubs.html  The Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service can be reached at 499-6334 in LaGrange Co., 636-2111 in Noble Co., 925-2562 in DeKalb Co. and 668-1000 in Steuben Co.