How to create holiday decorations on a budget

Need dirt-cheap decorating ideas? Early December is the perfect time to prune and trim and harvest a wheelbarrow full of free garden greens for decorating inside and out.

The Compleat

Home Gardner

Need dirt-cheap decorating ideas? Early December is the perfect time to prune and trim and harvest a wheelbarrow full of free garden greens for decorating inside and out.

You won’t have to worry about a high electricity bill, extension cords, burned-out light bulbs or blown-up snowmen that blow over in the wind when you go green and natural. This year try to spruce up the house and yard with spruce – along with cedar, holly, laurel and fir boughs.

Start by harvesting from the winter wonderland just outside your own back door. The best way to store cut greens is by slipping them (still damp from rain or dew) right inside a large plastic garbage sack and leaving them outdoors in the shade. If you keep your cut greens cool and damp they’ll stay fresh for weeks or even months.

Next, learn which greens make great material for outdoor decorations and which greens weep needles all over after only a few days. The short course: avoid our native hemlock with the fine needles and tiny cones.

So what if you don’t have a yard-full of fresh greens waiting to be cut?

No worries mate (OK, I’ve picked up some Australian slang) just head for a local nursery that offers fresh greens and a wreath-making class. You’ll get the bonus of sipping cider, listening to Christmas music and enjoying holiday decorations for inspiration as you work. You can leave the nursery with a hand-made gift or buy a fresh wreath and add your own ribbon to personalize it. Either way you’ll have no mess to clean up and no wrapping to do. Plus you can give your gift of fresh wreaths and swags now before the holiday rush.

Even easier than making a Christmas wreath is putting together a simple door swag. Follow these steps and you’ll be going green and red without spending any bread:

1. Look around your garden for cedar branches.

Our native cedar trees have slightly weeping branches and the needles are very flat. There are landscaping shrubs from the Thuga family that look like cedar and last like cedar. These include the popular Thuja arborvitae shrubs (used as green columns to form a hedge) and other landscape shrubs with soft, flat needles.

2. Prune an entire branch from your cedar, but only if you can do this without damaging the shape of the shrub.

Usually this is easiest if the branch is the lowest one, closest to the ground. What you’re looking for is a branch that will lie flat with a fan shape that can serve as the backdrop or frame for your swag.

3. Lay the branch on a table with the cut end at the top. Next slide a 12 inch length of flexible wire under the cut branch, about 6 inches from the top.

This wire is what you will use to hang the swag and also to bind up the next layer of greens that will be placed on top of this first branch.

4. Next layer colorful snips of evergreens on top of the main bough so that the stems can be gathered near the top with the wire.

A bit of blue spruce, green fir, variegated holly or broad leaved evergreens such as laurel and Pieris japonica will add color. Any evergreen plant in your garden can be clipped and added. Just be sure the stems can be joined together at the top.

5. When you like the look of your arrangement, bring the wire up and around all the stems and twist it tight to keep all the greens together.

Remember you are working on a table so you can fuss with the arrangement before tightening up the wire.

6. Now just add a big weatherproof bow to cover the twisted wire and you can hang your door swag outdoors for a season of Christmas cheer that is the original version of “going green.”

Don’t think of these swags as only for the front door. Decorate your mailbox, porch posts, garage wall or even the front of your car. A bit of green, some wire and a bright red ribbon is all you need to hang it up for the holidays.

• • •

Marianne Binetti has a degree in horticulture from Washington State University and is the author of “Easy Answers for Great Gardens” and several other books. For book requests or answers to gardening questions, write to her at: P.O. Box 872, Enumclaw, 98022. Send a self-addressed, stamped envelope for a personal reply.

For more gardening information, she can be reached at her Web site, www.binettigarden.com.

Copyright for this column owned by Marianne Binetti.

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