Bringing the beauty and fragrance of evergreens indoors is a holiday tradition for many families. Decorating with cedar, pine, holly, ivy and herbs is both simple and inexpensive, especially if you can cut the greenery from your yard.
Kim Bonastia, manager of Signal Mountain Nursery, cautioned, though, that some plants survive better inside than others. But there are ways to prolong freshness.
"I recommend using a piece of Oasis [floral foam] to help hold moisture," she said. "You can buy a product called Wilt-Pruf Plant Protector [to use] on the leaves to help retain moisture and add longevity to the plant foliage. Keep it well watered to ensure the best outcome."
Twigs are another natural element that are ideal for decorating, she said.
"Twigs work well for a different texture and height. I sometimes spray the twigs red for an added color. You can add pine cones to the arrangement by wiring [them] to the twig," she said.
University of Tennessee extension agent Tom Stebbins offered the following tips on using natural greenery for decorations. Cutting materials yourself assures freshness and saves money, he said.
1. Keep an open mind when assembling your materials. Evergreen boughs are typical for Christmas wreaths, but look around your property for ivy, pine boughs, magnolia, sweet gum balls, blue spruce and Leyland cypress leaves. Grapevines, wheat straw or ornamental grasses can be used as the structure for other materials placed on the wreath. Indian corn, corn husks, gourds, yarrow, teasel, money plant, pine cones, magnolia leaves, sunflower seed heads, statice, dusty miller, ferns, rose hips and dried chili peppers can be used to interesting effect.
2. Look for natural scents from the garden. These can include rosemary, thyme, pine cones, lavender, mints, apples or crabapples. Use them in dried flower arrangements, bouquets and potpourri.
3. Prepare the materials. Soak greenery overnight in a bathtub filled with water so they can absorb as much water as possible. Recut the ends and pound them with a hammer so they will absorb more water. Decorate just before the event for freshness.
4. Take care to prolong the life of your greenery. Keep arrangements away from heating vents and sunny windows. Mist greenery every day or two if possible. Spray with wilt-proof products designed to retain moisture. Replace dry parts of the display as needed. Put indoor wreaths or displays outdoors overnight to keep them fresher longer.
5. Take safety precautions. Some popular plants used in holiday decorating can present poisoning hazards for small children and pets. Poisonous berries are found on holly plants, yews, mistletoe, ivy plants, Jerusalem cherry, bittersweet and crown of thorns. Boxwood leaves are toxic, and pine needles and sap can cause irritation. Leaves from Christmas cactus and any lily leaves can be toxic to pet birds. Don't use candles in natural wreaths.
Feature writer Karen Nazor Hill covers fashion, design, home and gardening, pets, entertainment, human interest features and more. She also is an occasional news reporter and the Town Talk columnist. She previously worked for the Catholic newspaper Tennessee Register and was a reporter at the Chattanooga Free Press from 1985 to 1999, when the newspaper merged with the Chattanooga Times. She won a Society of Professional Journalists Golden Press third-place award in feature writing for ...