Natural holiday decorations such as roping, swags, wreaths, and table arrangements are not hard to make. You will catch on to the simple principles quickly, and in a short time your results may surprise everyone, including yourself.

Most of the materials you need are inexpensive or free for the asking, in many locales. But remember to get permission before cutting branches or fruits on someone else’s land!

Your local florist also should have natural materials, both local and from warmer climates. Tree farms are a good source of greenery or even undecorated products you can then decorate yourself.

For plant materials, evergreen twigs and boughs are the most important. You may be surprised at how much material goes into even small decorations. For longest life, keep greens away from heat, wind, and sun.

The most common evergreens include balsam fir, spruce (needles don’t last as long as fir and are prickly), white pine, and hemlock (needles will drop in dry air).

Other less commonly used evergreens are white cedar or arborvitae (foliage fades to yellow in a few weeks), red cedar and other wild junipers (sharp needles, so use sparingly to add variety, color, texture, and form), and broad-leaved evergreens like rhododendrons.

One caution about using yew (or taxus) is that all plant parts are poisonous, especially the attractive seeds. Look for a few branches of yellow-leaved evergreens for some color, such as certain variegated yews, gold-thread false cypress, old-gold juniper, or one of the gold arborvitae.

Other plant parts you can use for interest, and to give arrangements a “country” appearance, include cones, grasses, pods, and berries. Florist shops may carry more exotic plant parts such as lotus pods, holly, mistletoe, and various greens.

Some people like to add artificial decorations like bells, balls, and fake berries to their natural arrangements.

In addition to plants and other decorative materials, you will need something for a base for most decorations if starting from scratch. Wreaths require a wire, foam, or straw wreath form or a coat hanger bent into a circle.

Rope or thick, coarse twine makes a good base for garlands or roping. Florist foam, which comes in “bricks” that can be cut to fit any container, may be purchased at florist or craft shops.

Other essentials include a pair of clippers or utility scissors, florist picks (to hold greens to straw bases), and florist wire. The latter is a thin, green wire, available in several widths, that is used to hold everything together, such as cones to wreaths, greens to frames or rope, and decorations to walls.

To make wreaths or ropings, you will need individual branchlets or bundles of them. Simply cut small branch pieces 4–6 inches in length from the main branches, and wire or pin them directly to the frames. Or you can wire several together into a bundle and then wire the bundle to the base.

Overlap one branchlet or bundle over the cut ends of the last to hide them and the wire or rope base. Proceed down the rope or around the frame in this manner. Finally, once the greens are secured, add a bow and a few ornaments of interest, such as cones, berries, or artificial decorations.

To make a table arrangement, start with a wet block of florist foam, either freestanding or cut to fit a basket or other decorative container. Use a saucer under the wet foam, unless the container is water tight.

Place sprigs of green in the foam, followed by natural ornaments such as berries and artificial ornaments. Berries can be wired to a florist pick and then stuck in the foam. Follow the same design principles as you would if arranging flowers.

A door swag is simple. Take several branches of a desired length, usually 2 feet or so, and tie together to hang upside down. Then tie a shorter branch or two on top, upright. Where these all tie together, place a bow, group of cones, or other ornamentation.

If you want to use candles, use decorative lanterns to keep candles away from the greens (which, when dry, can be quite flammable) and then decorate around these with greenery and color.

Get a mold for making a luminary of ice, and place greens and berries in the water before freezing. These, with a candle inside, make an elegant table decoration for a special dinner.

If you have a stairway and banister, hang a grouping or two of greens and berries from the upright supports.

Many other decorations are possible using wire or Styrofoam bases in the shapes of candy canes, cones, or balls, among others. You’ll find these online or at local craft stores.

Simply follow the above procedures and your own creativity!


Dr. Leonard P. Perry is an extension professor at the University of Vermont.

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