How to Keep Holiday Greenery Fresh

Stairway banister decorated with fresh holiday greenery.

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. 

Fantasy Versus Reality

We all want the old-fashioned kind of Christmas we read about in books.

The kind with holiday greenery draped down banisters and across mantles. The kind with huge trees bedecked with candles. The kind with fresh wreaths and mistletoe and kissing balls...

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 holiday greenery and know how to maintain it.

Tips for Choosing Holiday Greenery

  • 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 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 buy it, give the needles the old Christmas tree test and bend them. If they are brown or they break, buy elsewhere. Other tips:

  • Buy or harvest greenery as close to when you plan to use them as possible.
  • Plan on putting fresh greens up just a week or two before Christmas.
  • If you must buy greenery early, keep it outside until needed.
  • Before you put that wreath on the door or drape the garlands, soak them overnight in the bathtub so they can absorb as much water as possible.
  • If you bring branches home to make your swags, garlands, and wreaths, re-cut 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.

Greenery Decorating Do's

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

Greenery 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 garlands from a mantel if you plan to use the fireplace.
  • Don't use antitranspirants on juniper berries, cedar, or blue spruce because it can damage their wax coating.
  • If you have children or pets, don't use greenery with poisonous berries such as holly, yew, ivy, Jerusalem cherry, bittersweet, crown of thorns -- or especially mistletoe.

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

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