Decorating with fresh greenery is a treat for most gardeners preparing to spruce up their homes for holiday festivities. Some holiday decorators buy freshly harvested greens from a local garden center or may buy an extra tree to cut into pieces. However, you can save holiday dollars by harvesting branches from evergreen conifers in your backyard.
Whether making wreaths, porch pots or swags, your eastern red cedar, pines, spruces, holly, yew, boxwood and junipers can be used. Cedars, pine, firs, boxwood and holly are the best options for using indoors while others will maintain freshness longer if used in outside décor. While foraging for evergreen branches, look for cones, berries and decorative twigs to incorporate into your designs.
It is best to harvest after hard frost, as the tree is now dormant and will retain its needles longer.
If cutting a tip of a branch from an evergreen, be sure to leave live foliage behind on the tree as to not kill the entire branch. Boughs should be cut 2‐4 feet from the tip of a branch and above a node to encourage regeneration. The goal is to make harvesting look unnoticeable, so be mindful in your cuts.
If cutting the entire branch, leave a proper pruning cut behind. Never leave a stub or cut into the collar of the branch. The collar is a swollen base that allows the cut stem to heal. Never cut more than 25 percent of the evergreen plant to avoid stress and evenly distribute cuts around the plant to maintain form. Store cuttings in your garage, misting often.
Boxwoods and hollies suffer if they freeze after cutting and may turn colors.
Shearing or trimming boxwoods is a good practice for young plants to maintain a certain form with dense growth. Removing all or most of last year’s growth can be done with hand pruners or hedge clippers and used in boughs or wreaths.
Simply trim branch tips of holly bushes back to a node. Do this throughout the entire plant to maintain or even improve shape. The female holly plants will have bright red berries.
Red twig dogwood displays the brightest color on new growth. Trimming every other year is a benefit to this popular landscape shrub. Either remove some older less colorful stems, while selecting some of the bright ones, or if you haven’t pruned in a while, cut them all to 3-4 inches from the ground.
Berries with winter interest grown in Illinois backyards are chokeberry, elderberry, high-bush cranberry and winterberry. Winterberry is a native deciduous holly that has bright red berries during winter months. Separate female plants produce berries with a male plant in the vicinity to pollinate them. One male plant pollinates about 10 females. Stems can be cut before leaves fall off. Place in a cool dry location in a bucket of water before using.
Cuttings from your yard will save money, leaving more for gift buying.