Plant Materials for Holiday Decor

Plant Materials for Holiday Decor

Q: Are there homegrown plant materials besides conifers that I can use for holiday decorations?

A: Traditions and beliefs that came to North America with immigrants from Europe led to the extensive use of branches and cones of pines, firs, and other evergreen trees and shrubs for holiday decorations. However, not every home landscape contains conifers that can be pruned for this purpose. Fortunately, a range of home landscape plants provide material that can be used to make attractive decorations and much of it is renewable.

Small, leafless branches of deciduous trees, whether fallen or pruned, can be used bare or with enhancements such as paint, glitter, or batting to provide shape interest or simulate snow-covered trees or branches. If desired, these can serve as perches for birds or other small creatures, or as supports for battery-powered LED lanterns or other decorative objects. One caution: do not cut tree branches in the fall, use either disease-free fallen branches or branches pruned in February or early March and stored for later use.

Colorful shrub material such as red twig dogwood stems or weeping branches from willows or ninebarks can be placed in vases for color and/or shape interest. Dried tall grasses, especially those with prominent seedheads, are also a source of engaging forms.

Weeping branches and woody vines, particularly grapevines, can be woven into decorative wreaths or sprays, or strung with other elements for table centerpieces. Recently cut grapevines also emit a pleasant fragrance.

The fruits of osage orange or persistent crabapples on branches are another potential material.  Just be certain to watch for signs of rot or other deterioration.

Finally, your herb garden can be harvested for rosemary stems (an outdoor annual in Chicago’s climate) or dried fronds and seedheads from dill or fennel, which are both interesting and lightly fragrant.

Please email plantinfo@chicagobotanic.org for more information.