Southerners have been decorating with greenery since Colonial days, although the custom was not common in the northern United States until the 1800s. Churches were decorated elaborately with garlands of holly, ivy, mountain laurel and mistletoe hung from the roof, the walls, the pews, pulpit and sometimes the altar. Lavender, rose petals and herbs such as rosemary and bay were scattered for scent. Homes were decorated in a simpler fashion with greenery and boughs in the window frames and holly sprigs stuck to the glass with wax.
Today, decorating for the holidays with fresh greenery is more prevalent than ever, according to Karen Russ and George D. Kessler of Clemson Extension Home & Garden Information Center.
Greenery such as cedar, ivy, pine and holly add a fresh look and natural scent to our homes.
The first and often the best place to look for holiday greenery may be in your own landscape. Greenery gathered from your own garden will be far fresher than any that you can buy. You may also have a variety of unusual greenery that would be difficult to find for purchase.
When gathering live greenery from your shrubs and trees, remember that you are actually pruning the plants. Consider carefully which branches to cut and which ones to leave. Distribute the cuts evenly around the plant in order to preserve its natural form.
Many different kinds of greenery can be used for holiday decorations. Pines, firs and cedars are good to use for indoor decoration since they dry out slowly and hold their needles best at warm interior temperatures. They may last for several weeks if properly treated and cared for. Hemlock, spruces and most broadleaf evergreens will last longer if used outdoors.
Some suggested varieties to use in holiday decorating:
Some other excellent evergreens that can be used for holiday greenery include:
NOTE: Ground pine, also known as princess pine or creeping cedar, is often used for Christmas decorations. This beautiful native plant is very slow growing and local populations can be destroyed after only a few years of harvesting for Christmas decorations.
Dried evergreens can become flammable when in contact with a heat source such as a candle flame. Make sure that any wreaths, roping and garlands that you bring indoors are as fresh as possible. Check needles by bending them. They should be flexible and not break. Avoid greenery that are shedding or that have brown, dry tips.
Before bringing the greenery inside, soak them in water overnight to rehydrate them. Commercial sprays are available that can be used to provide some fire resistance.
Never place fresh greenery near heat sources, such as space heaters, heater vents or sunny windows. Be careful of wreaths used on the front door, if there is a glass outer door that receives direct sunlight. Keep greenery away from candles and fireplaces. If you use lights near your green arrangements, make sure that they stay cool, and if outside, that they are rated for exterior use.
Check your decorations every couple of days for freshness. If greenery is becoming dry, either replace or remove the dry portions. Make sure to discard dry greenery away from the house or garage to prevent a further fire hazard.
Some popular plants used in holiday decorating can present poisoning hazards for small children or pets. Poisonous berries are found on holly plants, yews, mistletoe, ivy plants, Jerusalem cherry, bittersweet and crown of thorns. The pearly white berries of mistletoe are particularly toxic. Keep all these plants out of the reach of children and curious pets.
Use clean, sharp cutters to cut branches and immediately put cut ends into water until ready to use.
Crush the ends of woody stems to allow the cutting to take in more water.
Immerse greenery in water overnight before arranging. This allows the cuttings to absorb the maximum amount of moisture.
Allow the foliage to dry and then spray it with an anti-transpirant to help seal in moisture. Note: Do not use anti-transpirants on juniper berries, cedar or blue spruce. The product can damage the wax coating that gives these plants their distinctive color.
Keep completed wreaths, garlands and arrangements in a cool location until use.
Display fresh greenery and fruits out of the sun and away from heat.
Plan to replace greenery and fruits throughout the holiday season if they become less than fresh.
Many different types of decorations can be made with fresh greenery. Some traditional types are garlands, swags and wreaths. A number of different types of forms can be stuffed with sprigs or branches to create topiaries. Kissing balls are an unusual alternative to the usual mistletoe sprig.
A variety of wreaths and garlands are readily available commercially. Most are plain and unadorned, but can be dressed up with contrasting live greenery from the yard for a personal look.
In addition to the more commonly used evergreens, consider using other plant parts such as berries, dried flowers, cones and seed pods to give color and texture interest. Some possibilities include: