Foraged Outdoor Arrangements

Baby, it is cold outside….
Those popular lyrics say it all. We are warming up inside with a glass of wine and enjoying ourselves. But if you entertain or just bring in the groceries, you need some holiday arrangements to greet your guests or lift your spirits. Here are some ideas on doing outdoor arrangements in your old containers that held overflowing annuals which are now toast. Remove those old plants and transform your pots into something magical and stunning. Add mini lights and you have something incredible to greet your visitors as they drive up to your house and enter.

Light up your arrangements with spotlights
Red twig dogwood branches, fresh eucalyptus, greens, nandina berries, gold tipped arborvitae


Forage in your garden and on the roadside and at the local store to pick up some treasures. Shopping at a local Wegman’s, I snatched up some gold painted huge pine cones that were fabulous!! Trader Joe’s is also a great resource, perhaps for Eucalyptus and other treasures, like Winterberry. For my post on foraging on the side of the road, check out Foraged Foliage and Berries for Fall.

Laying out the goods
Some foraged lichen covered branches
I grow this gold tipped arborvitae especially for Christmas decorating
Simple but effective vine ball full of tiny lights on a bed of greens

Choose the Right Plants

Growing the right sort of plants in your garden is the first step. I just planted an evergreen Magnolia tree, Brown’s Bracken, so that I can use the branches in future projects. I have started to trim it sparingly, but it is growing pretty quickly and I intend on trimming more in the near future.

Browns Bracken Magnolia on my property

Using the greens and berries from your own property is very satisfying and you can be sure they are fresh. Contacting my neighbor who has a huge stand of juniperus chinensis that rings around her property produced a tub full of juniper branches. She allows me to cut at will and it is a great blue grey-green for Christmas decorations.  Any blue berries are a bonus.

Juniper berries

Also, I grow red and yellow twig dogwoods and curly willow, just for the branches that I use for drama and height in my containers. All of these are easy to grow  and harvest for your projects. Winterberry in both red and gold are another shrub that is easy to grow and important to add color to arrangements.

Yellow Twig Dogwood
Yellow Twig Dogwood
Yellow twig dogwood along with birch logs and cotton branches add drama to this container
Winter Gold Winterberry growing in the garden
Harvesting the bounty of my trees and shrubs in November; the blue black berries are privet
Harvesting gold Chamaecyparis
Dwarf Thujopsis dolobrata, or commonly known as Hiba Arborvitae is a wonderful addition to fresh green arrangements
Closeup of Thujopsis
My red Winterberry in my garden; ready to be picked
Dried hydrangea flower heads are ready to be picked
Incense cedar drapes over the edge of a container
Dusting of snow frosts the surface of this container

Foraged Winter Greens for Seasonal Outdoor Arrangements

Outdoor seasonal arrangement, done by Gretchen Schmidl (materials: nandina, privet berries, thujopsis, magnolia, chamaecyparis, grass plumes, red twig dogwood, and hydrangea)

What do you do with containers on your front porch or deck once you have yanked out those sorry-looking frost-killed petunias?

Segue into the holiday season with beautiful fall/winter containers using “yard” material. Forage for material from your property on or around your home. Snips in hand, I venture into roadside edges and woods and gather lichen covered branches, fall colored foliage, pine cones, and seed heads for amazing accents for my arrangements. Be sure to get permission from the landowner if you are roaming around to avoid anyone chasing you off their property! I ask neighbors permission to browse on their property promising them a beautiful arrangement in return.

Winter Gold winterberry holly at McLean Nurseries

For my own property, as a landscape designer, my first consideration in planting any tree or shrub is – Can I use it in my outdoor seasonal containers? Yellow, red, orange twig dogwoods, curly willow, hydrangeas, foliage with variegated foliage, evergreen magnolias, winterberry, red-berried viburnums, and ruby rose hips, are planted on my property with one motive in mind; Are they useful in arrangements inside and outside?

Lay out your materials so you can easily pull your arrangement together; foraged from your yard or a neighbor’s, you can make a big impact for little cost

Using the existing potting medium in your old containers is a sustainable way of reusing the substrate as a quick and easy substitute for floral oasis. Large branches will break up oasis and will fall apart with the freezing and thawing cycle. Inserted branches in soil will freeze in place to keep your arrangement in place.

Start with a soil filled container; Cut back any old frost-killed plants
Start by sticking your branches into the soil, emerging from a central point
Continue adding material, starting with the largest first; Drape berries (Privet) along the edges
Finish off with some fun accents; here is I used pumpkin on a stick and foraged lichen branches
Carex grass in front, magnolia, hydrangea, chamaecyparis, abelia, nandina

Make it Simple Directions

  1. Keep the old soil in place and cut off at soil line old plants. You have an instant blank palette to play with that can take you into the holidays and beyond. The trick is to complete your masterpiece before the ground freezes as you can’t stick anything into a frozen pot. Though, don’t despair if you are presented with frozen clods. I have used a propane torch to defrost the soil enough to insert my branches!
  2. Place a preformed fresh wreath two inches wider than the pot diameter on top of the soil. An evergreen wreath will save you some steps in the process of creating an outdoor arrangement. With the addition of a pre-formed wreath, you have instant soil coverage and a beautiful base to start with, and the edges are covered. If you don’t use a wreath, you just need to drape more foliage around the base and edges.
  3. Insert your thriller sticks or uprights (like Birch logs) in the center of the wreath. I love using yellow twig dogwood and pick up the yellow color with gold evergreens. Curly willow is also excellent.
  4. Start inserting your largest leaves/branches first. Bracken’s Brown Beauty Magnolia is a favorite because of the lovely brown felted reverse. But any large-leaved evergreen, like Rhododendron or Aucuba will work. Insert your branches directly through the base wreath angling the branches outwards.
  5. Add other contrasting foliage, some variegated white pine and yellow tinged false cypress to pick up the yellow twigs or feathery false cypress. Stay away from Hemlock and Holly foliage as these will dry quickly and brown out. Chunky birch logs, winter berry sticks, rose hips, and large pods are added last for color and interest. Over-sized plastic Christmas balls, jumbo pine cones, hydrangea heads, grass plumes, big colorful bows can all be added at this point.
Arrangement done by Amy Sparwasser (Materials: Camellia, Cedar, Arborvitae, Magnolia, fake berries, White Pine)

If the soil is dry, water the arrangement to keep everything hydrated and to settle the branches into place. Your beautiful container will last 6-8 weeks, more if you keep it in a shady area of your porch. If some material starts to look tired, you can always replace with fresh branches to keep it going.

The accent I used here was seeded Eucalyptus, but everything else was cut from my property


Hydrangea, nandina berries and foliage, and orange fothergillia foliage
Winterberry, birch logs, magnolia, white pine
Fall colored oakleaf hydrangea is a wonderful addition to seasonal arrangements