One of my favorite holiday treats is driving through the neighborhoods to see all the wonderful and creative ideas each homeowner uses. I love to decorate outside during the winter holidays, especially using the materials that grow right here in my own landscape or the woods nearby.
(Editor's Note: This article was originally published on December 15, 2008. Your comments are welcome,but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to respond to your questions.)
Evergreens and cut materials dry out quickly in our cozy warm homes, so unless you enjoy vacuuming up fir and pine needles well into February, using live materials outdoors is the way to go. With some extra effort, your holiday decorations can be welcome way-stations for winter birds. The following ideas are suitable for true winter-weather areas (like Ohio!), but you lucky folks in the warmer climates can be more creative with your native materials.
Before you head out into your garden with the shears and saw, be aware of good pruning practices for the various trees and shrubs that provide holiday greenery. Shrubs such as firethorn and holly are tolerant of deep pruning, but remember that they will need some time to produce new growth in the pruned areas. Try to make your cuttings small, rather than taking large branches, and utilize parts of the plant that are not highly visible. Be careful of the sharp barbs on firethorn--gloves are a good idea.
Evergreens, on the other hand, do not replace branches which have been removed close to the trunk. Evergreen growth is at the tips of the branches. Be careful not to destroy the look of your evergreen by leaving gaping holes. Eventually, the tips of the surrounding branches will grow and possibly fill in the void, but it will take a long time. Again, take cuttings only from the ends of the branch or unseen portions of the plant.
A Holiday Decoration Does Double Duty
Say "Happy Holidays" to your feathered friends with this bird banquet decoration. Materials:
10- or 12- foot Shepherd's crook
Red 1-inch Ribbon, outdoor type
5-6 small evergreen boughs (about 10 to 12 inches): Fir, Spruce, Juniper, or any variety with matted needle formation
Bird-friendly fruit such as grapes, cranberries, apples, or raisins
Before beginning the project, place potting medium in the hanging planter and water lightly; allow to drain. This moisture will keep your greens fresh for a long time.
Make the seed pinecones: warm the peanut butter until runny. Drizzle over the outside of the pinecone, then allow excess to drip off. Roll the pinecone in birdseed, then place on a paper plate. Repeat the process with the remaining pinecones. Set the plate in a cold place for about 20 minutes to allow the peanut butter to solidify. This is an important step--trust me!
Insert the evergreen branches into the soil at an angle to form a "nest" of branches in the planter. The tips of the branches should hang over the edge of the pot.
Insert broadleaf materials and seed heads where desired.
Attach a shiny ornament to one side of the arrangement. This will catch the birds' attention, and it's also pretty.
While the pinecones are chilling, prepare the shepherd's hook: Wrap the red ribbon diagonally around the staff and secure with wire at the hanger.
Now arrange the seed-covered pinecones in the nest, and add a few small ones to fill in.
Add a bright red bow to the planter hanger.
Put your "candy cane" into the ground, hang the bird banquet, and sit back to enjoy the show!
Easy Hanging Baskets for Winter
Hanging planter basket
Potting medium; you can re-use what's in the planter if you haven't already dumped it
Holly, Firethorn, or Snowberry; evergreens such as Fir, Spruce, Pine, Cedar, or Juniper branches
Broadleaf materials such as Magnolia, Laurel, or trailing Vinca
Arrange the materials in the planter, tie a ribbon at the top, and hang up where you and the neighbors can enjoy it.
You can use the same hanging basket idea indoors by substituting a large planter pot for the basket. Remember to keep the soil moist to prolong the life of your decoration materials, and be sure to place a drip tray under the pot to protect against spills or leaks. You can also add non-weatherproof materials such as artificial flowers, ornaments, or dried materials. In the pictured arrangement, I placed a white Poinsettia in the pot, then filled in with Fir branches. Simple!
Try a bowl of roses and holly--you'll like it!
This year, instead of draping your house with manmade decorations, use some of Mother Nature's bounty to beautify you home for the holidays.
About Toni Leland
Toni Leland has been writing for over 20 years. As a spokesman for the Ohio State University Master Gardener program, she has written a biweekly newspaper column and is the editor of the Muskingum County MG newsletter, Connections; she currently writes for GRIT, Over the Back Fence, and Country Living magazines. She has been a gardener all her life, working soil all over the world. In her day job, she scripts and produces educational DVDs about caring for Miniature Horses, writes and edits books about them, and has published five novels.