On December 15, 2021

Five tips for using holiday greenery

By Nicole Sanchez, master gardener Oregon State University extension service

For those seeking to “spruce” up their interior spaces during the holidays, fresh evergreens are a great place to start. In addition to the natural feel and fragrance, evergreens are especially forgiving to work with. Even those with little experience in floral design can effectively use greenery with just a little practice.

Start by observing the difference between greens that drape, like pine and cedar, compared to those with stiffer ends, such as fir and spruce. These will serve different roles in an arrangement. Stiffer branches are the structure, providing shape and line, while branches that “drape” are usually added later. Paying attention to the natural shape and direction of branches will save a lot of frustration; the best results come from working with the lines and flow of the material rather than trying to control it.

A word of caution about trimming material from evergreen trees. Conifers (evergreens) do not respond to pruning in the same way that other trees do. Don’t cut large branches off and expect that they will grow back. A better approach to harvesting from a landscape tree would be thinning, or removing branches from a full area of the tree, where they will not be missed after removal.

There are numerous books, videos, and websites with step-by-step instructions for creating holiday arrangements with greenery. Use the tips below to help fine-tune arrangements and have them last longer.

Wire choices

When creating a garland or swag of greenery, paddle wire is more helpful than the pre-cut pieces of florist wire. Using the wire on a paddle or spool gives the designer something to grip for leverage, allowing for taut pulling of the wire around the greenery stems. It takes considerable strength and pressure to pull tightly. As the greenery dries, it will shrink; tight wires are necessary to keep greenery pieces from falling out over time.

Florist wire comes in a variety of sizes or gauges. The larger the number, the smaller the wire. Gauge 18 or 20 are typically used for heavy greenery work.

Wreath frames

Wreath frames can be made or purchased. The wider the space between the rings of the wreath form, the more material it will take to cover that frame.

A frame of a single wire is not helpful unless the wreath is very small. The greens tend to shift and slide very easily on a single-wire frame. Multiple wires in a frame give it strength, but cheaper ones made of softer wire will pull out of shape into an oval as the weight of greenery is added.

Wreaths are constructed by wiring individual bundles of greenery onto the frame. Pro tip: pre-make multiple greenery bundles to be wired on, and keep some aside as “templates” so that future bundles will be similar in size. Inconsistent bundle size leads to lumpy or uneven finished wreaths.

Arranging with foam

Floral foam is not necessary for many holiday greenery arrangements – even some greenery centerpieces can be made without any container at all.

For holiday arrangements in floral foam, remember to shave all needles or leaves off the part of the stem that will be inside the foam. With thicker stems, it’s often helpful to shave down the diameter of the stem being inserted into the foam. Large holes in the foam can cause challenges with shifting, especially for less confident designers that may take out and re-insert a stem several times before it finds its “happy place.”

Keep it humid

Greens will last the longest when they are cool and moist. Many greenery decorations are not arranged in water or foam. These need to be misted with water on a regular basis for longevity. Evergreen needles are able to absorb moisture through stomata, tiny openings in the needles.

Wired ribbon

When it first emerged onto the decorating scene, wired ribbon was a game changer, but very expensive. No longer pricey, wired ribbon hides imperfections in an arrangement by covering it with color-coordinated cheer. It can even be reused year after year — the wire helps it hold shape and not get too wrinkly. Thoughtful placement of ribbon can hide the place where greens pieces were wired together, or a spot where a wreath isn’t as full or thick.

Those who delve into decorating with fresh greens for the first time will find that a good pair of pruners is an absolute must — as is a pair of wire cutters. With these simple tools, it’s not difficult to turn out attractive decorations. Pumice cleaner like mechanics use is handy for removing sap from hands and tools after the decorating is done.

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