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Making the Most of Your Garden: What to Harvest and Utilize for Decorative Holiday Greens and Displays

November 25, 2011

Winter is approaching rapidly but the work of the gardener is never done. Some of the most interesting aspects of your garden can be presented during the winter months. Dormancy is one of the best times to sharpen up the shears and head outdoors. The pruning of needled evergreens is best done in the late winter/early spring and definitely not advisable passed the beginning of June for many species (except for pinching), however, there is an added benefit when pruning right before the holiday season. While taking care of problematic branches, broken limbs, and structural pruning make sure to keep those evergreen branches for use in your own seasonal displays. What Evergreens Can I Prune? When selecting specimens that may lend branches that are worth exploring in your displays for both indoor and outdoor uses it is imperative to properly identify the plant. The three basic needled evergreens common in the home-landscape are spruce (Picea sp.), pines (Pinus sp.), and fir (Abies sp.). Of these three genera, pine trees are the least conducive for winter pruning. Unlike spruce and fir trees, there are not lateral buds on pines, which form whorls of needles around terminal buds. Pines”are best pruned during the time when the terminal bud transforms into a candle of new growth typically at the beginning of summer. Due to their inability to produce laterals, if they are pruned with a heading cut during dormancy, a woody branch (stub) will indefinitely persist. Pines are best utilized as the tree inside the home rather than a source for winter greens. If you desire to utilize pine branches in your displays they are commercially available from a variety of floral distrbutors or ask for scraps at the local Christmas tree farm. Spruce and firs have lateral buds that allow these trees to be efficiently pruned during the dormant months. Remember before you prune any of your evergreens to survey the specimen and only prune off limbs and branches, which will not compromise the integrity of the structure and appeal of the specimen.

Remain constantly conscious of the promotion of growth behind the prune if heading rather than thinning branches of these trees to prevent an adverse form in the future. Oftentimes, it is better to thin branches that are conflicting/rubbing or potentially problematic. Waiting to remove the lower limbs, or limbing-up evergreens during this time can be beneficial when selecting branches for large wreaths or swags. Shade gardens dominated by eastern hemlock (Tsuga Canadensis) can be an amazing, hidden treasure for the floral designer in search of unique plant material. Younger hemlocks tend to be very responsive to pruning and have a beautiful cone that resembles a rosebud just starting to open. When selecting cones to use in your displays, do not hesitate to incorporate the allure of the unique cones from a Douglas fir tree (Pseudotsuga menzesii), which can also tolerate a little bit of shade and can vary in foliage color from a dark lush green to blue. Arborvitae (Thuja sp.) and boxwood (Buxus sp.) do not normally last as long as several of the needled evergreens in floral displays, but bdd a broad leaf to increase the textural appeal of your designs. When removing branches in November you can use these as outdoor decor if they are brought indoors they have a tendency to dry-up relatively quick and/or turn black. Therefore they are best suited for less permanent table-top greens, floral displays, or potted displays rather than in wreaths or swags. The less than stellar foliage of yews (Taxus sp.) are generally not used in large-scale winter decorations and are often overwhelmed by the popularity of blue holly (Ilex x. meservea), cherry laurel (Prunus lauroscens), and cedars (Cedrus sp. and Calocedrus sp.) especially in southern gardens.

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