Holiday Decorating with Cut Greenery

Wreaths, garlands and centerpieces made of fresh cut greenery are beautiful, traditional, and – if you use greenery from your own yard – very economical ways to decorate your home for the holidays. Smelling the wonderful fragrance of evergreens can bring back holiday memories as well as creating new ones.

When choosing greenery in a store, look for flexible needles and branches, fresh green color, and minimal needle drop. At home in your own yard, gather a variety of greenery from shrubs, trees, and plants. Keep in mind that you are essentially pruning your plants. Use sharp pruners, pay attention to the shapes of your plants, and avoid removing too many branches.

Once you have your cut greenery ready, rehydrate by soaking in water overnight. Cut stems at a 45 degree angle with sharp pruners and crush the ends of woody stems to increase water uptake. Keep greenery in water until you are ready to arrange it. Arrangements like wreaths and garlands, which are not kept in water, will dry out quickly. Treat these with an anti-dessicant (also called anti-transpirant), which will slow the release of moisture from the branches. Check your arrangements often and replace pieces that have dried out. Dried-out evergreens are flammable, so keep them away from flames, heat sources, and direct sunlight.

Clemson University Extension has compiled this list of suggested evergreen plants for holiday decorating:

White Pine: This soft, bluish-green, long-needled
pine has excellent needle retention but wilts visibly
if dry. It is readily available as premade garland and

Virginia Pine: This native pine has shorter, coarser
needles, and is long-lasting, with excellent needle
retention. Virginia pine is readily available.

Junipers: Fragrant, short, green or silver-blue
foliage that may be adorned with small blue berries.
The needles are often sticky. Red cedar is a native
juniper and is readily available.

True Cedars: Deodar cedar, blue atlas cedar, and
cedar-of-Lebanon all have a wonderful fragrance. If
small male cones are present, spray them with
lacquer or acrylic to prevent the messy release of
pollen at room temperature.

Firs: All firs have wonderful scent and good
tolerance of hot, dry indoor conditions. The needles
are short and flat with excellent color and needle
retention. Fraser fir wreaths and swags are
commonly available from commercial sources.

Spruce: Wreaths are the main use for spruce
greens. The branches are stiff with short, sharp
needles. Blue spruce is especially attractive because
of its color, and it holds its needles better than other
spruce. Needle retention is poorer on spruce than on
other conifer greens.

Ivy: This vigorous vine is readily available in many
yards. It makes an excellent green for holiday
arrangements. The cut ends must be kept in water,
or the ivy will quickly wilt.

Holly: This most traditional holiday green comes in
several forms, both green and variegated. Female
plants display bright red berries. Make sure that
holly does not freeze after cutting, or the leaves and
berries may blacken.

Mountain Laurel: This is a traditional evergreen in
the South for wreaths and garlands. As with other
broad-leaved evergreens, however, laurel holds up
best when used outdoors.

Boxwood: This small-leafed shrub is a longtime
favorite for fine-textured wreaths and garland. It has
an aroma that is either loved or hated. Be sure of
your reaction before using it indoors.

Magnolia: The large leaves are a glossy, dark green
that contrast well with the velvety, brown
undersides. Magnolia leaves make stunning wreaths
and bases for large decorations. The leaves hold up
very well even without water.

Some other excellent evergreens that can be used
for holiday greenery include:
• Arborvitae
• Ligustrum
• Pittosporum
• Podocarpus
• Viburnum
• Leyland Cypress
• Nandina
• Japanese Cedar (Cryptomeria japonica)
• Hemlock


Why not bring some of the outdoors in this holiday season? A web search can provide many beautiful ideas for ways to decorate with fresh greenery. With a little preparation and care, fresh arrangements can last at least two weeks inside a home, and longer outside if temperatures are cool. The results are beautiful, fragrant, and festive.

This Clemson publication (also referenced earlier) is an excellent source of information and ideas:

For information about fresh cut Christmas trees, please see these posts in our blog:

-Ann Barnes