Decorating indoors with plants and greenery during the winter is one of the oldest traditions in the world and has been a part of celebrating winter festivals since ancient times. Citizens in the southern U.S. states have been using fresh greenery to decorate for the holidays since colonization, while it is newer come to the northern states beginning in the 1800s. Garlands of holly, ivy, mountain laurel and mistletoe bedecked the walls and ceilings of places of worship while lavender, rose, rosemary and bay were scattered about for aromatic purposes. Houses were decorated with boughs of greenery displayed in windows and sprigs of holly affixed to glass. Today decorating with greenery is omnipresent, seasonal interest, beauty and scents are brought into our homes with plants, wreaths and boughs made of cedar, ivy, pine and holly.
Greenery can be gathered from your landscape or garden, which may be fresher than anything bought from a store. If harvesting greenery from live shrubs, remember you are actually pruning them, so do so carefully or consult with your arborist for advice. Listed below are examples of commonly used evergreens which make beautiful holiday decorations and are easily found:
The soft, long, bluish-green needles of white pine are persistent while fresh and are usually readily available as prefabricated garlands or wreaths.
Junipers have interesting bluish-grey needles and beautiful, well-preserved fruit . Needles may be sticky, but boughs can be pretty easily maneuvered. With several native species, availability is ubiquitous.
Blue atlas cedar and cedar of Lebanon have beautiful coloration and fragrance. If cones are present on boughs gathered or bought spray with acrylic or lacquer to prevent the release of pollen. Although these may be difficult to work with for some decorative projects, small pieces can be worked in for more seasonal interest.
Firs are some of the most common evergreen species for home decoration. Their soft needles and aromatic presences make a wonderful seasonal addition to the home. Easily worked into bouquets, wreaths and garland, several native fir species will be available for purchase.
Spruce will be best used for wreaths. While the needles come in various, beautiful colors ranging from blue to green to silver, and combinations in between, they can be sharp and branches stiff. Needle retention for spruce trees is poorer than other evergreens, of all the spruces the Colorado blue holds its needles the longest.
Ivy is not only readily available in many landscapes and stores, but it is attractive, versatile and easy to work with. However, it should be kept in water as long as possible.
Dark-green, shiny leaves make beautiful wreaths and garlands. Boxwoods, however, have an aroma that people seem to either love or hate, so confirm your reaction before bringing it into your home. If you plan to prune boughs from your landscape boxwoods, definitely consult with your arborist in order to maintain the best health for your shrubs.
With its festive seasonally colored leaves and berries, holly is the quintessential winter decoration. Branches are flexible and easy to work into garland or wreaths but be careful of sharp serrations on leaves. Also, be sure to keep holly from freezing following purchase or cutting.
These are not all of the available or possible options for decorating for the holidays with greenery, but they are the most common and therefore, the most readily available. When and where possible try to choose native species for your decorations, they will not be difficult to find and will benefit the environment and industry. Additionally, if children or pets are of concern in your household be sure to choose species which are non-poisonous, and keep all plants and decorations out of reach. Contact your arborist for advice in making decisions regarding species and pruning.
Karen Russ, HGIC Horticulture Specialist; George D. Kessler, Extension Forester; and Bob Polomski Extension Consumer Horticulturist, Clemson University, 11/99.