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

Outdoor Seasonal Containers

Simple Fall container with nandina berries and foliage, orange-tinged fothergillia, and hydrangea blossoms

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.

Start with a full pot of soil


Use an inexpensive wreath on top of the container to cover your edges

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.

Layering ribbon makes a lush bow

More Options

Lots of Magnolia paired with gold lotus
The addition of fall tinged Oakleaf Hydrangea adds a lot to this arrrangement
I left a growing variegated ivy here which will last all year long
Red rose hips shine in the sunlight
Here I used some red dyed eucalyptus

Created and photographed by Amy Sparwasser

Grand Entrance-Decorate for the Holidays

Fresh Holiday Arrangement
Fresh Holiday Arrangement

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.

Boxwood with greens and silver balls
Boxwood with greens and silver balls


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.

Start with a waterproof fiber pot filled with oasis
Start with a waterproof fiber pot filled with oasis
Materials-wreath, magnolia, yellow twig dogwood, winterberries, red seeded eucalyptus, glittery pine cones, yellow tipped arborvitae
Materials-wreath, magnolia, yellow twig dogwood, winterberries, red seeded eucalyptus, glittery pine cones, yellow tipped arborvitae


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.

Use a pre-made wreath as a base
Use a pre-made wreath 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.

Place your wreath on top of a container-here I used a waterproof fiber pot
Place your wreath on top of a container-here I used a waterproof fiber pot

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.

Once you place the wreath on top of the pot, start adding your plant material-Here, I use gold tipped Arborvitae
Once you place the wreath on top of the pot, start adding your plant material-Here, I use gold tipped Arborvitae

Insert Magnolia branches into the oasis along with yellow twig dogwood for drama.

Add Magnolia leaves
Add Magnolia leaves

Add some red dyed seeded Eucalyptus for a pop of color.

Insert red seeded Eucaplyptus
Insert red seeded Eucalyptus

I finished it off with large branches of peach winterberry and glittery pine cones.

Add peach colored winterberry and some sparkly pine cones
Add peach colored winterberry and some sparkly pine cones

Tips on Creating Outdoor Christmas Arrangements with Greens

  1. Use a winter hardy pot – fiber glass, metal, cement – not        terracotta as it can crack

  2. Add water to soil or use oasis so that it is moist – it will freeze the arrangement in place as the weather turns cold

  3. Fill up and mound soil 3-4″ above rim to give branches height and depth

  4. 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

  5. Create outside in place as the urn will become very heavy to move. Once in position, the arrangement should freeze in place

  6. Don’t use styrofoam berries-only naturals- styrofoam splits

  7. Use completed wreaths of greens as bases for urns

  8. For center height and drama, use curly willow, dogwood      branches, birch logs, or winter berry branches

  9. Since most arrangements will be viewed from a distance, the bolder and larger, the better

  10. Add large outdoor balls or other accents (glitter branches) for added drama