Keeping Holiday Garland Fresh

Indoor stairway banister with fresh holiday greenery.

We all want the old-fashioned kind of Christmas we read about in books and see in holiday movie classics. 

The kind with holiday garland draped down banisters and across mantels. The kind with giant trees adorned with candles.

The kind with fresh wreaths and mistletoe and kissing balls and ... What we forget is that these idealized Christmases occurred long ago - before central heat. 

In modern times (when we don't have to wear gloves indoors), the decorating scheme must undergo a little change.

We can still deck our halls; we just need to choose the right greenery and know how to maintain it. Here's how to keep holiday garland fresh.

Choosing Holiday Garland

Fantasy:  Deck the halls with boughs of holly ...

Reality:  Anyone who has ever tried decking anything with holly has found out that holly will dry to a crisp indoors in a day or two if you don't stick its little boughs in floral foam.

Fantasy:  A home magazine showing a roaring fire with lush fresh garlands draped from the mantel. 

Reality:  That scene is the "before" picture. The magazine never shows the "after" picture with toasted garlands dripping with brown, dried-out needles. Now let's consider how to make holiday greenery work in our homes today:

Garlands, swags, and wreaths: For indoor decorations, use pine, fir, and cedar. These cuttings dry out more slowly than other greenery and may last several weeks if you keep them cool.

Holiday arrangements:  Several types of greenery are appropriate for arrangements that will be watered or anchored in floral foam. Just a few that you may clip from your own garden include ivy, holly, yew, magnolia, boxwood, nandina, pittosporum, viburnum, and hemlock.

Outside garlands and wreaths:  Spruce, laurel, boxwood, juniper, and fir are the favorites for outdoor decorations. 

Holiday Greenery Prep

The best way to ensure that greenery is fresh is to cut it yourself. And the advantage of using what comes from your yard is that it's cheap, and the materials will be unique to your yard.

If you do buy it, give the needles the old Christmas tree test: bend them. If they are brown or they break, buy elsewhere.

Other tips for keeping holiday garland fresh and green:

  • Buy or harvest greenery as close to when you plan to use them as possible - plan on putting them up just a week or two before Christmas.
Festive greenery draped on home exterior.
  • If you must buy holiday garland early, keep it outside until needed.
  • Before you put that wreath on the door or drape the holiday garland, soak them overnight in the bathtub so they can absorb as much water as possible.
  • If you bring branches home to make your own swags, garlands, and wreaths, recut the ends and pound them with a hammer so they will absorb more water. Then soak them overnight in the tub.

If you make floral arrangements, keep them in the garage or outside when they are not on display.

Garland Decorating Do's

  • If you use lights in your arrangement or garland, make sure the lights are cool.
  • Keep greenery away from heat vents, fireplaces, and even sunny windows.
  • Check greenery for freshness every couple of days and replace sections that are brown or are dropping leaves or needles.
  • Mist every couple days to keep it fresh - and green.

Garland Decorating Don'ts

  • Don't decorate too early. The longest-lasting greenery (fir) will only keep four weeks indoors - if you're lucky.
  • Don't use greenery in displays with candles.
  • Don't drape garland from a mantel if you plan to have a fire.
  • If you have children or pets, don't use holiday garland or greenery with poisonous berries such as holly, yew, ivy, Jerusalem cherry, bittersweet, crown of thorns - or especially mistletoe.

And finally, with any evergreen decoration, be sure to keep the broom handy. You'll need it. 

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