• Decorating with Fresh Greens During the Holiday Season

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    No other time of the year presents as wonderful an opportunity for decorating as the holiday season. And certainly no other holiday season utilizes as much live greenery in its decorations. Here’s a guide for selecting, caring for, and decorating with fresh greens.
    Selecting your fresh greens.

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    The material you choose as the greenery for your decor will serve as the foundation for your vision. Most people assume that all greens are created equal, but that isn’t true. Needle size and color can vary substantially, and some greens dry out more quickly than others making them less suitable for indoor use.

    Pine, fir, cedar, and white pine lasts the longest, the boxwoods and laurels dry up more quickly and turn off color. Use the same test for pine needles that you do on a Christmas tree – bend them – if they break or are brown they aren’t fresh. Cold can affect Red cedar and turn them brown more quickly.

    Most fresh greens in the home will only last a couple of weeks, although outside, white pine could last half the winter. In addition, costs can vary as the difficulty of harvesting the materials comes into play. Here is a closer look at the most popular greens used in holiday decorations: White Pine – Long, thin, blue-green needles. In contrast to their appearance, branches are softer than most choices and will retain their needles when not subjected to high temperatures. When selecting, bend the needles – they should bend, not break. Frasier Fir – Short, flat needles that hold their green color and moisture well.

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    When used in abundance, fragrance can fill a room. Eastern Red Cedar – When mature, this evergreen produces a scale-like needle with a blue cast and blue berries. It is a strong choice for indoor use due to its strong fragrance, but it can turn brown very quickly when cut and left outside in the cold for a long period. Laurel – Similar to rhododendron, this is a broad-leafed evergreen with dark-green oblong leaves. Like other broad leafed evergreens (i.e. magnolia) it will dry quickly indoors at room temperatures, but will hold up well as an exterior decoration. Balsam Fir – Needles are soft with a yellowish green cast and are very fragrant. If picked too early, balsam fir can quickly dry. Test by running fingers back along the needles; they should bend back – not fall off. Holly – Dark, shiny, broad leafed evergreen.

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    Due to the spiky nature of its leaves, it is best used in small applications such as as a garland for pillar candles. Hemlock – wide linear needles that are less than 3/4 of an inch in length. These flat needles have rounded ends and are whitened underneath. Preparing your greens Keeping your greenery looking its best through the holiday season can be a challenge, but proper preparations can ensure you’ll get the most value from your investment. Most greenery will only hold up for a couple of weeks. So planning when you install your greenery can be your first and best step to decorating your home. If you do pick your greenery early, keep the material in your garage where temperatures are cooler until you are ready to decorate. Once you have selected your date for decorating, soak your garlands and wreaths in a tub of water overnight.

    This will ensure that their water content is as high as possible before being placed throughout your home. For sprigs and branches, crush the ends of the woody stems, and soak those in water also. Lastly, remember to save some spare sections, sprigs, and branches in the garage and use these to replace greenery indoors that has become too dry or brown. Once you have placed your greens, misting them can also help keep them from drying prematurely. Placing your greens There really aren’t any design mistakes you can make when placing your greenery, though there are safety considerations. Don’t place fresh greens near heating vents or draped over fireplaces that you’ll use. You may have live houseplants near these sources of heat now, but remember – your fresh greens won’t be getting regular doses of water to replenish what’s lost. You should also avoid placing greens around exposed candles (candles protected within hurricane glass, however, are much safer). And if you’ve ever burnt your hand changing a light bulb, you understand how much heat they can generate, so these too, should be avoided. Even fixtures that use LED bulbs should be on your list of places to avoid. Although LED bulbs produce less heat than their incandescent counterparts, the fixtures in which they are placed can get very hot and can quickly dry out fresh greens.

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    Lastly, also try to avoid placing fresh greens in windows that receive sunlight for long periods of the day. If you think these safety concerns are too restricting of your design sensibilities, remember that you can use artificial greens in place of fresh greens (more on artificial greenery later). You’ll get the best impact from your holiday decorations by placing them in areas where people gather such as entryways, hallways, living and dining rooms, and kitchens. If you plan on having guests during the holiday season, remember to include your guest bathroom in your decorating plans. Within these spaces, look for mantles, credenzas, and built-ins which make excellent focal points for decorations. After that, it’s simply a matter of choosing how simple or elaborate you wish your decor to be.

    You can choose to only place greens on mantles, credenzas, and window sills or you may want to extend your decor to include interior bookshelves, sconces, window sills, and banisters. You can also choose to dress your decorations up or down. A simple approach might involve small amounts of greenery adorned only with small twigs of berries and a few small pinecones. A more elaborate approach would include a higher volume of greens adorned with ribbons and ornamental balls in addition to berries and pinecones. Keep in mind when using berries that many are toxic and so are the leaves and twigs of many plants associated with holiday decorations.

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    Mistletoe, Holly, Yew, Boxwood, and even Poinsettias are toxic and should be kept out of reach of pets and small children. Likewise, choices abound when deciding on how to decorate your home’s exterior. A front door adorned with a lone wreath and bracketed by urns containing holiday greens may be enough for some.

    Others may choose to elaborate on this approach by including wreaths on all front-facing windows, and garlands or ribbons around entryway columns and mailbox posts. And you have the same choices of ornamentation outside as you do inside. Berries, ribbons, pinecones, and ornamental balls are all part of your decorating palette. And of course, let’s not forget about exterior lighting. If you do elect to use exterior lights, you have many choices including their color, their bulb size, and where you want them placed – on trees, shrubs, walls, piers, mailboxes, etc. Faux vs. Fresh There are benefits to either type of material, so the choice is dictated by your personal taste. Artificial greens won’t dry out, so you can place them whenever you are ready to decorate.

    This can be an important consideration if you wish to have a party earlier in the month. You can also place them around active fireplaces and heating vents, and in windows that face the sun for long periods of the day. Faux greens can also be used in closer proximity to light fixtures than fresh greens, although care should still be taken to avoid placing decorations of any type in places where they can come in contact with light fixtures and other heat sources. In addition, they don’t need water, won’t drop needles allover your house, and are allergen free.

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    Faux greenery can also speed up your decorating process. Many artificial products are already adorned and assembled so you only have to unpack and place your decor. Lastly, if you purchase your own decorations, they will also represent a one-time cost (although, keep in mind that the higher-quality and more-realistic looking artificial plants will carry a higher price than inferior products).

    For many homeowners, however, faux plants cannot match the appeal and atmosphere of fresh greens. No scented candles or air fresheners can ever replace the authentic aroma of fresh greens, and using the same decorations each year is not appealing to many who like to decorate anew each holiday season. And there are others, still, who use both fresh and faux plants and are able then to get the best of both worlds. Holiday decorating can be overwhelming. Trying to carve out some time to decorate your home while also planning parties, readying the home for guests, and squeezing in holiday shopping is difficult at best. Good planning, however, can help make the process easier and more manageable.

    Fresh greens & wreaths by McCue Garden Center, Woburn, MA.

    December 06, 2014