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Decorating for the Holidays

By Nina Bynum

Decorating for the holidays is a family tradition. There is something about this season that makes us pull out all the stops and turn our homes into works of art.

Why not take some of nature´s bounty and use it in your holiday decorations? Master Gardeners always encourage the use of native plants. Native gardening is on the upswing, and so are natural decorations. Everything from wreaths to garlands, arrangements and swags can be made naturally. Using what we have outdoors can be an alternative to the artificial. Here are some ideas to decorate your table and home with the abundant gifts of nature.

Consider a centerpiece or cornucopia made with pumpkins and other winter squashes, Native American corn, pine cones, acorns, nuts, grapes, pears, pomegranates, and apples. Short branches of greens, tucked among these items, can be used as filler. Hollowed out pumpkins can be used to hold flowers or candles.

You might also like to tie dinner napkins with raffia and tuck in a pretty fallen leaf and an acorn (which are plentiful around our house this year). Do you have access to grapevines? Twist them into garlands or wreaths for table, mantelpiece, doorway, or stairs. Add leaves and berries if you like.

Our Mother Lode area is blessed with evergreens that come in an astonishing array of the color green. Pine and cedar are probably the most common ones here. Local nurseries sell spruce and fir, if you don´t have any available. You might have holly, boxwood, or nandina in your landscape. Try adding these to your wreaths or garlands for color. The greenery you cut will last much longer if kept cool. Use fresh pieces outside as much as possible and inside closer to the holiday. Plunge cuttings into water as you remove them.

When you´re taking clippings from existing plants, remember that these plants will be in your landscape long after the holiday season has ended. Keeping that in mind, take clippings from all over the plant, not just in one area. The plant should have a natural look after the cuttings are removed.

Do you have access to sugar pine cones? Aren´t they wonderful? I learned long ago that if they´re fresh, they should be dried before use. I place them on aluminum foil in a 250 degree oven for two to three hours. This dries their sap and they become much easier to handle. Try adding these to swags decorated with wide red ribbon.

Holiday garlands have traditionally been made by stringing popcorn or cranberries together. Another interesting garland can be made by stringing together bright red apples. The scent of apples is an added bonus. Use a heavy duty needle and fishing line to make it sturdy.

Be creative and use what you have at hand. The items you will need are as common as the holly bushes in your front yard, or as simple as wild grasses, bare branches or clusters of berries. If you don´t have them growing outside, most nurseries can provide what you need. I have an abundance of native manzanita and like to use their bare, twisted red branches for decorating indoors. These materials are versatile, so use your imagination.

On another subject, I would like to re-emphasize the idea of leaving fall leaves on the ground to replenish the soil and to help prevent weed seed germination. As I look out the window during this time of year, it saddens me to see smoke rising from burning leaf piles. This burning wastes a precious amount of resource in the process. Those leaves could have been chopped or shredded and used as mulch in the garden or layered into compost piles. I know that sounds like a lot of work, but it does hasten the leaf break down. An easier way to use those leaves is simply to rake them into piles in an out of the way area, keep the pile moist and turn occasionally. In about two years you will have a wonderful leaf mold to turn into your soil.

This is my fourth year of successfully using the technique of leaving the leaves on the ground. The longer I garden, the greater my appreciation for the value of organic matter. And one of the very best sources of organic matter is autumn leaves. See you in the garden.

Nina Bynum has been a Master Gardener since 1996. She is becoming more and more an advocate of the use of native plants in our gardens.