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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
What do you do with a container on your front porch once you have yanked out those sorry-looking frost-killed petunias?
Segue into the holiday season with beautiful fall/winter containers using “yard” material. As a landscape designer, my first consideration in planting any tree or shrub is – Can I use it in my seasonal containers? Yellow, red, orange twig dogwoods, evergreens with variegated foliage, magnolias, winterberry, red-berried viburnums, interesting evergreens like cedar and thujopsis, and ruby rose hips, are planted on my property with one motive in mind; Are they useful in arrangements inside and outside?
Make it Simple Directions
Keep the old soil in place and cut off at soil line old plants, and you have an instant 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.
Using a preformed wreath will save you some steps in the process of creating an outdoor arrangement. In the above example, I used a 15″ diameter pot topped with a 18″ diameter wreath. You have instant soil coverage and a beautiful base to start with.
Insert your thriller sticks or uprights in the center of the wreath. Here I used yellow twig dogwood, one of my favorites.
Start inserting your largest leaves first. In this case, I use Brown’s Bracken Magnolia with a lovely brown felted reverse. Insert your branches directly through the base wreath.
Add other contrasting foliage, some feathery white pine and yellow tinged false cypress to pick up the yellow twigs. Chunky birch logs and orange winter berry sticks are added last for color. I placed an over-sized Christmas ball in the container but ultimately decided to not use it. Finish it off with a gold three-layered bow.
If you need some pizzazz for your outside entrance to greet visitors, create a live green arrangement with evergreens and twigs cut from your property. Jazz it up with something sparkly and you can leave it in place for weeks.
Once I empty my large pots and window boxes at the end of November, I can dress them up again with greenery which will last most of the winter. I keep the soil in them as that is the glue which will hold my greens in place.
Here I used a waterproof fiber pot filled with oasis, but a time saver is to use one of your containers filled with soil. Once I finish arranging in a fiber pot, I place the whole thing into an empty container.
A trick that I have used for a long time which will get you started in a hurry, is to buy a pre-made wreath of fresh greens and build upon that as a base.
Placing this wreath on top of the rim of the pot will hide most of the soil and you can stick your greens in and around it. Buy a ready-made or make your own.
Start by placing your wreath horizontally on top and start adding your other plant materials. Once you insert stems through the wreath, that will anchor it to the container. For this container, I began with adding gold tipped Arborvitae. Stick the branches through the wreath into the oasis or soil.
Insert Magnolia branches into the oasis along with yellow twig dogwood for drama.
Add some red dyed seeded Eucalyptus for a pop of color.
I finished it off with large branches of peach winterberry and glittery pine cones.
Tips on Creating Outdoor Christmas Arrangements with Greens
Use a winter hardy pot – fiber glass, metal, cement – not terracotta as it can crack
Add water to soil or use oasis so that it is moist – it will freeze the arrangement in place as the weather turns cold
Fill up and mound soil 3-4″ above rim to give branches height and depth
Spray Wilt-Pruf, an anti-dessicant that will keep the greens fresh, but be careful of some firs and juniper berries- they could lose their color with the application of the spray
Create outside in place as the urn will become very heavy to move. Once in position, the arrangement should freeze in place
Don’t use styrofoam berries-only naturals- styrofoam splits
Use completed wreaths of greens as bases for urns
For center height and drama, use curly willow, dogwood branches, birch logs, or winter berry branches
Since most arrangements will be viewed from a distance, the bolder and larger, the better
Add large outdoor balls or other accents (glitter branches) for added drama