University of Vermont Extension 
Department of Plant and Soil Science

Winter Holiday News Article
By Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor
University of Vermont

As the holidays approach, you have a wonderful opportunity to express yourself by making natural decorations. At the same time, you can help your home take on a truly festive spirit.

Holiday decorations are not hard to make. You will catch on to the simple principles quickly, and in a short time your results may surprise everyone, including yourself.

Most of the materials you need are inexpensive or free for the asking in many sections of the state. But remember to get permission before cutting branches or fruits on someone else's land!

For plant materials, evergreen twigs and boughs are the most important. You may be surprised at how much material goes into even small decorations. If you have a cool, moist spot free of drafts for storage, you can start gathering greens as early as Thanksgiving. Or you can buy greens, usually in bundles, from garden stores and many outlets selling Christmas trees. In any case, keep them away from heat, wind, and sun.

The most common evergreens include balsam fir (the most common), spruce (needles don't last as long as fir), white pine, and hemlock (needles will drop in dry air). Other less commonly used evergreens are white cedar or arborvitae (foliage fades to yellow in a few weeks), red cedar and other wild junipers (sharp needles, so use sparingly to add variety, color, texture, and form), and broad-leaved evergreens like rhododendrons. One caution about using yew or taxus is that all plant parts are poisonous, especially the attractive seeds.

Other plant parts you can use for interest, and to give arrangements that New England "country" appearance include cones, grasses, pods, and berries. The latter can be found in many colors. For red or orange, try sumac, crabapples, hawthorne, and mountain ash. For a touch of blue, use nannyberry, arrowwood, or junipers, and for yellow, crabapples. Christmas shops may carry more exotic plant parts such as lotus pods, holly, mistletoe, and baby cattails.

Some people like to add artificial decorations like bells, balls, and fake berries to their natural arrangements. Red ribbons also are popular although hundreds of other styles and color combinations of ribbons are available. If using outdoors, make sure you select a ribbon rated for that use. Keep the width in proportion to the size of the arrangement.

In addition to plants and other decorative materials, you will need something for a base for most decorations. Wreaths require a wire, foam, or straw wreath form or a coat hanger bent into a circle. Rope makes a good base for garlands or roping. Florist foam, which comes in "bricks" that can be cut to fit any container, may be purchased at florist or craft shops.

Other essentials include a pair of clippers or utility scissors, florist picks (to hold greens to straw bases), and florist wire. The latter is a thin green wire, available in several widths, that is used to hold everything together, such as cones to wreaths, greens to frames or rope, and decorations to walls.

The range of decorations you can make reaches far beyond what you may think is possible. So, don't hesitate to try out new ideas. Just keep in mind that whatever you make should be in proportion to, and harmonize with, the surroundings.

To make wreaths or ropings, you will need individual branchlets or bundles of them. Simply cut small branch pieces four to six inches in length from main branches, and wire or pin them directly to the frames. Or you can wire several together into a bundle, then wire the bundle to the base.

Overlap one branchlet or bundle over the cut ends of the last to hide them and the wire. Proceed down the rope or around the frame in this manner. Finally, once the greens are secured, add a bow and a few ornaments of interest, such as cones, berries, or artificial decorations.

To make a table arrangement, start with a wet block of florist foam, either free standing or cut to fit a basket or other decorative container. Use a saucer under the wet foam, unless the container is water tight. Place sprigs of green in the foam, followed by ornaments such as berries and artificial ornaments. Berries can be wired to a florist pick, then stuck in the foam. Follow the same design principles as you would if arranging flowers.

Many other decorations are possible using wire or Styrofoam bases in the shapes of candy canes, cones, or balls, among others. Simply follow the above procedures and your own creativity!

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