Foraging for winter decorations is one of my favourite things to do. When the air is crisp with abrilliant blue sky, I layer on my fall clothes and head out along our fields. Out of the wind, can be almost balmy.
There is nothing like thick resin smell of a fresh cut pine branch. The startling reds of dogwood twigs and winterberries are the foils to the blues of Juniper berries and Spruce and entice me to gather branches in my garden, gully and along forest edges.
I have been foraging winter decorations for many years. Before rebuilding the Crazy 8 Barn, I spent the pre-Christmas seasons making hundreds of outdoor and indoor arrangements and wreaths to sell at the markets and to my landscaping clients (I know, it’s been a long and winding road!)
We call it greenery, but it runs the gamut from golden yellow, to blue, and all the hues of green with splashes of red from branches and berries.
Today, I will share my expertise with you, to help you enjoy your winter decor whether your forage it or buy it. I have divided my list into items that are good, bad and ugly. Some greenery, like some people, are both good and bad depending on how you care for them. Then, there are the just plain ugly things that you should avoid, no matter what.
Pine – all pines, smell lovely, retain their needles and can be harvested throughout the
season. I think they are the best and most versatile and fill in arrangements with their structure.
Cedar – harvest before first hard frost, usually around Canadian Thanksgiving, store in open garbage bags in total shade and use as needed. This retains the bright green colour. Also check tip of leaves to makes sure there are no brown spots.
Cones – All fallen cones add interest and if you wrap a light wire around the bottom, you can easily stick them into arrangements or tie onto your swags. White pine often have a gummy substance making them messy to work with. Red or Austrian pine are great for rustic arrangements, White Spruce are smaller and good for indoor arrangements and Norway Spruce are large and make an impact. This year’s cone crop tend to close up when moist. Keep them dry for next year and they will be even better.
Spruce – Tips of Blue Spruce from your garden are great for a pop of colour and hold their needles.
False Cypress – this stringy leafed evergreen, whether brilliant gold or green adds nice texture. Selectively prune in your garden.
Juniper – With its bright blue berries or golden accents are great for outdoor urns or swags. Don’t use indoors as it often has a faint odour of cat urine (Yikes!) that is unnoticeable outdoors.
Winterberries – these brilliant red berries are our native deciduous holly-type bush. They stay the nicest if you use them outside. Inside, they last about as long as fresh flowers. You’re lucky if you have them on your property or you can now buy them locally from Hat Trick Farms near Blenheim.
Highbush Cranberry – the native or naturalized shrubs have juicy dark red berries. They last well, but only use them in your outdoor arrangements as they smell like a pile of dirty socks when warm, inside your house.
Holly – Many of us have Holly bushes in our gardens, the females provide the lush red berries and the males can be trimmed back for interesting greenery. Last a long time indoors and out.
Red Twig Dogwood – These shrubs are best if they are trimmed back regularly. The bright red new branches are a holiday tradition. You may find that the twigs have rooted in the Spring when you empty out your winter planter. If you have a moist, shady spot, put them in the ground and you will have red twig dogwood forever.
Magnolia buds – the furry covering of next year’s flower buds add an interesting twist to arrangements. Only cut off branches that you don’t want to bloom in the Spring.
Sand – perfect base for arrangements if you have some available. Make sure to put some layers of newspaper over the holes in the bottom of your pot so that sand does not drain out. Sand freezes hard and heavy so your pots don’t blow around in the wind.
Hard Pruning – Be careful not to cut too many live branches off a shrub so that you damage the shape or future growth of the plant.
Potting Soil – Will be handy as it is likely in a pot already, but becomes light and outdoor urns can blow around. Make sure to secure pots.
Spruce – avoid White Spruce, especially if you are buying an arrangement. They drop their needles early and often.
Sumac –seed heads look wonderful in rustic arrangements but can be invasive if not disposed of properly in the Spring. Spray painting with red paint may reduce seed viability.
Thistles – again, seed heads look great, but can spread thistle seeds around your yard. Spray painting can reduce their viability.
Disposal – careful disposal by composting or burning can reduce the spread of invasive seeds in the Spring.
Other People’s Property – NEVER cut branches if you don’t own the property or have permission from the owner. Cutting on public property is also discouraged.
Phagmites Plumes – these big grass-like reeds grow in ditches and wetlands and are one of the most invasive and damaging plants in Ontario. DO NOT USE. You cannot control the spread of its seed throughout the season.
Wild Rose Hips – The small red berries look great, but they are restricted in many of the United States as being extremely invasive. They will spread fast growing roses that spread to woodland edges and open meadows.
Good luck in creating beauty with your winter decorations, enjoying the Good and avoiding the Bad and the Ugly.
P.S. I have some delightful 24″ X 24″ Barn Quilts available for Christmas presents. Look on my website to see what’s available .