How to Decorate With Fresh-Cut Greenery Indoors
The holidays are a time to gussy up the house or office for upcoming holiday celebrations, parties, or just to have something indoors to remind us of the outdoors, when it’s too cold to actually go outside. And this goes beyond poinsettias and menorahs, and potted Norfolk Island pines with ribbons. Without getting bogged down with details, let’s just acknowledge that winter solstice traditions thousands of years old, passed along from cultures around the world, include bringing garden greenery into the home around this time of year.
What do we want? Wreaths and swags over doors and mantels, or tabletop candle arrangements? How about entire trees – live in pots, or fresh cut in stands of water - bejeweled with ornaments? No matter. There are a few considerations for cutting green stuff off trees and shrubs, and bringing it indoors where the warmth and lack of humidity will cause it to quickly dry out.
To start with, make your selections carefully. Great candidates for cutting and bringing indoors without drying out too quickly include evergreens such as holly, ivy, euonymus, ligustrum, pine, spruce, and, for warmer-climate gardeners, Southern magnolia, aucuba, fatsia, and aspidistra.
Don’t limit yourself to just green stuff; some of my favorite, longest-lasting arrangements were made from unusual bare tree branches in pretty vases, accessorized with seed pods from sweetgum trees and trumpet vine, and even the rich burgundy seedheads of sumac.
Keep in mind that some berries shed easily or quickly from cut stems, and are not only messy but also potentially dangerous if picked up by curious pets or children. Consider replacing them with realistic wired sprays of artificial berries found in any floral supply shop. While you are at the store, pick up a roll of easy-to-cut green floral wire for tying stuff together easily and unobtrusively.
Back out in the garden, choose fresh boughs, branches or vines that are healthy and moist to begin with. And don’t disfigure the plants in your garden with random whacks! Prune stems close to where they start growing, or longer stubs may sprout out next spring with gangly shoots in unnatural places.
In collecting leafy evergreen cuttings, put them in a plastic trash bag to stay humid and fresh as long as possible. You may want to condition larger pieces further by steeping the cut ends, maybe in a small plastic trash can filled with tepid water.
This gathering period is also a great opportunity to inspect fresh cut material or potted outdoor plants for overwintering “hitchhiking” bugs and other small varmints that otherwise could revive in the warmth of indoors and surprise you - or your table guests!
Make It Work – Safely
Keeping smaller vines and the like in vases of water or moist floral foam can prolong the mantle life of cut foliage. Some decorators spray-paint leaves with silver, gold, or other colors, which not only adds a nice holiday touch while keeping them from showing their natural brown dried colors, but also keeps the leaves moist longer, reducing shedding.
And any florist can point you to their preferred “anti-dessicant” spray to help slow the drying out of plants (including a cut Christmas tree). It is possible to make your own using pine oil and water, but ready-made commercial products are typically pretty inexpensive and easy to use.
Once you have cut and tied your arrangement materials into a wreath, swag, or other display, may sure that where you place it is out of a direct draft from your heating system, to keep the leaves from drying as quickly. And it goes without saying to never put fresh cut plants anywhere near a fireplace or lit candles which could fall over and cause your arrangement to ruin everything with a house on fire.
Consider keeping some of your fresh-cut decorations outside in a cool, protected area out of direct sunlight, to bring indoors only when needed for special occasions. This works with decorated potted plants such as clipped rosemary topiaries and live Christmas trees as well. Otherwise, regularly check your arrangements for excessive drying out of leaves or berry-dropping; remove or replace what you need to.
These are simple tips, but can help you choose and safely display greenery cut from your garden.