Natural greenery adds fresh look to holiday décor

Thursday, November 10, 2011
By: Karen Templeton

Decorating for the holidays can provide an opportunity for Mississippians to get outdoors and be inspired by their own backyards.


Richard Harkess, plant and soil sciences professor with the Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station, said fresh greenery throughout the state can be used for decorating. Taking advantage of it saves money and can add a unique look to any home's holiday décor.

"There are a number of places you can find fresh greenery, such as your backyard or a roadside," Harkess said. "An abundance of plant materials in our state can be used to decorate in homes. Magnolia leaves hold up well and can look festive in decorations."

Harkess said leaves and branches from trees that tolerate pruning work well, such as Leland cypresses and junipers.

"Deciduous hollies with berries are really attractive and work well as swags or in arrangements," he said. "Mistletoe grows high up in trees and is actually considered a pest. It is a traditional choice for holiday decorations, but it is extremely important to remove all mistletoe berries before bringing it into your home. The berries are poisonous and are a danger to children and pets."

Harkess suggested replacing mistletoe berries with store-bought beads. Natural embellishments can also add detail to native greenery.

"Look for pine cones, sweet gum balls and gourds to dress up your holiday greenery," said Lynette McDougald, business manager at Mississippi State University's The University Florist and plant and soil sciences instructor. "Don't underestimate everyday natural items you have at your disposal. Dried artichokes, hydrangeas and rose heads look great in arrangements. I save just about everything and see how I can fit it into my décor."

McDougald suggested gluing twigs and sticks upright around a can or jar to use as a vase for table top arrangements. She said using gold, silver or copper spray paint on dried hydrangeas, pine cones, holly, sweet gum balls or magnolia leaves also provides a festive accent.

"Magnolia leaves are great in garlands, wreaths and large-scale arrangements," McDougald said. "They also take paint really well."

McDougald thinks about her Christmases past when coming up with ideas for decorating her home.

"The beauty of getting outdoors to find decorating items is it provides the opportunity to take a trip down memory lane with younger family members," she said. "Get out there with your children or grandchildren and find plant materials that remind you of the holidays from when you were growing up. Nostalgia provides incredible inspiration."

Harkess said it is important to take good care of natural holiday decorations.

"Place the decorations in your home no earlier than four weeks before the actual holiday," Harkess said. "Arrangements can be kept fresh with water, but be sure to refresh décor like mantle swags with new greenery as needed. Wreaths and other outdoor decorations will last longer."

Mississippians can find many festive plants for the holidays in their local gardening centers.

"Cyclamen, white chrysanthemums, poinsettias, holiday cactus, paperwhites and orchids are available in most greenhouses," Harkess said. "White tulips are also for sale in garden stores this time of year and make a nice addition to holiday decorations."

Holiday decorations, including live wreaths and garlands made by the student chapter of the American Institute of Floral Designers, will be available at The University Florist's holiday open house on Dec. 2 from 9 a.m. until 6 p.m. At the open house, McDougald will lead a holiday design program focusing on making holiday décor with materials from Mississippi's gardens and byways.

To sign-up for the program or to reserve a wreath or garland for purchase, contact McDougald at (662) 325-3585 or

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