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Using Homegrown Evergreens For your Christmas Decorations

When you dream of a home filled with the colors, sights and scents of the season what images come to mind? In the following photographs discover some creative ways for using winter greenery during the holidays. Find joy in letting the fragrance of nature invigorate your home with a fresh, festive spirit.

An antique wooden dough bowl becomes the perfect cradle for freshly cut cedar branches adorned with bright, red McIntosh apples. In the days following Christmas those same apples will be used to make a favorite recipe, Very Best Homemade Applesauce. Cooked and jarred rosy applesauce goes straight to the freezer after cooling with the promise of being savored throughout the new year.

Grow It/Use It

Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus Virginiana)

This cedar can be grown almost anywhere in the country. They can handle the cold up north and heat in the south. The green foliage of this tree grows on a pyramidal shape creating a stunning, elegant evergreen look. In the winter, small blue-hued berries emerge from the trees, attracting birds. Mature Height: 30 -60 ft. Mature Width: 8-25 ft. Prefers full to partial sun. Makes for a perfect wind and noise screen.

For many years, I’ve accumulated a nice collection of pinecones given to me by friends …some from Oklahoma, others from east Texas. While the natural look is my preference, many of them have been embellished with bright silver or 24 kt gold spray. Over the years they’ve been used in a multitude of ways but this year I decided to combine them all into one large wooden dough bowl filled with greenery from my yard. Japanese Plum Yew and Boxwood clippings were plentiful this year and added a lovely green accent. If you are drawn to the rustic chic design aesthetic, here’s a little glitz and glam to give it some holiday sparkle.

Grow It/Use It

Japanese Plum Yew (Cephalotaxus harringtonia) ‘Prostrata’

This is a versatile evergreen spreading yew with dark green needles making it attractive to use for foundation or mass plantings. (My favorite place to use it is for filling in under large trees and other semi-shady areas.) Slow growing 2-3 ft. tall, 3-4 ft. wide. It is an easy-care plant that can be sheared annually to help maintain a tidy, neat appearance.

Boxwood (Buxus)

Boxwoods are everywhere. From elegant, formal landscapes to hedges and foundation plantings, their versatility is endless. We have a 30-40 ft. long boxwood hedge growing on the west boundary of our property that has never been trimmed back. As you can see from the photograph, it is over 7 ft. tall with branches gently drooping downward to the ground below. It has become a nice privacy screen for our 70-year-old property. When planting boxwoods, choose a spot appropriate for their needs. A full or part sun location is needed for optimum growth. Consider planting them in an area that is protected from winter wind to avoid a condition called winter bronzing. When left untrimmed, growing boxwoods is a low maintenance task. Older boxwoods, like mine, should be thinned to allow sunshine to reach the inner foliage. My preferred time to do this is in December when the clippings are used for my Christmas decorating projects.

A vintage stone reindeer and sleigh once used to hold Christmas cards is now adorned with Lady apples left over from Thanksgiving. Tucking sprigs of boxwood and holly under the apples provides a pleasing contrast of colors.

Grow It/Use It

Dwarf Burford Holly (Ilex cornuta ‘Dwarf Burford’)

Dwarf Burford Holly is a broadleaf evergreen that typically grows as a shrub 8-10 ft. tall. Dull white flowers appear in May. Fall and winter is when it gives us those showy clusters of small red berries. For the densest foliage and heaviest berries, plant Burford holly in full sun and well-drained soil. It is perfect used as a natural hedge.

The same tarnished copper container used for a fall arrangement has been polished up for the holidays and filled with an assortment of garden greenery. Included in the mix are boxwood, cedar, magnolia, cherry laurel, Burford holly, Savannah and yaupon holly.

Grow It/Use It

Yaupon Holly (Ilex vomitoria)

Neil Sperry calls it Texas’ Star Native Shrub.  He says that “no shrub that grows wild in the Lone Star State is any better suited to our landscapes and gardens than this great holly”. Mature size to 20 ft. tall and wide but can grow larger in exceptional conditions. In nature, all yaupons are shrubs. What we commonly see are lower branches that have been removed allowing plants to be trained to grow as small trees. Small bright red berries mature in winter and remain attached to plants until cedar waxwings and other migrating birds feed on them in early spring. Female plants produce berries but there must be a male plant somewhere nearby. When planting, it’s important to know that yaupons produce a denser canopy in full sun.

Cherry Laurel (Prunus caroliniana)

The Cherry Laurel is a dependable, easily grown, North American native that is densely foliated with glossy, dark green, evergreen leaves. The tree can reach 40 ft. in height with a 25 ft. spread though it is often seen smaller when grown in the open. It is attractive when allowed to grow naturally into its upright-oval, dense form. Plant in full sun to full shade on any well-drained soil. In springtime, tiny, creamy-white showy flowers appear in fragrant clusters followed by small, shiny, black cherries, which are attractive to wildlife. You can expect to see many seedlings beneath the crown each year from germinating seeds.

Southern Magnolias (Magnolia grandiflora)

A magnificent tree cultivated for its glossy green leaves and lovely white blossoms. The leaves are so beautiful they may be reason enough to start growing a southern magnolia. For a healthy tree with the maximum number of spring flowers, plant your magnolia in full sun. Give it plenty of room to grow and reach its possible height of 80 ft. with a spread of 40 ft.

Growing up in Durant, Oklahoma, I attended college locally at Southeastern State University, a school that is still known today as the “Campus of 1,000 Magnolias”. But my love affair with magnolias started much earlier. My childhood home was only three blocks from campus and the elementary school I attended (Russell Elementary) was located on the college campus. As a child, my friends and I probably climbed most of the trees on that campus. It was our favorite place to play and ride our bicycles. I’ll always treasure those sweet memories. 

One concept that starting trending a few years ago is the “Hot Chocolate Bar”. This three-tiered stand sprinkled with faux snowflakes is an attractive way to invite guests to indulge in the experience. Cinnamon sticks, spoon shaped peppermint sticks, hand crafted marshmallows and chocolate chips make customizing your cup of cocoa fun and easy. Burford holly branches bursting with red berries complete the look.

Candlelight takes this centerpiece from simple to something enchanting. Three round glass vases partially filled with water are ready for clippings from a holly berry bush. Floating candles cast a soft glow on the table as dinner begins.

Two vine formed deer give this woodland scene a sense of magical wonder. With branches of freshly cut Deodar cedar and pinecones scattered around their feet, a covered patio tabletop arrangement suddenly feels like a visit to the forest.

Grow It/Use It

Deodar Cedar (Cedrus deodara)

Deodars are not native to this country, but they offer many of the advantages of native trees. Drought tolerant, fast-growing, and relatively pest free, these conifers are graceful and attractive specimens for the yard. Plan to give them plenty of space to grow as they can rise to 50 ft. tall. Deodar cedars grow into a loose pyramid shape, with 2-inch-long whorled needles that give the tree a soft allure. The branches extend almost horizontally, angling slightly down, and the tips rise slightly. Thanks to my neighbor and fellow Bluffview garden club member, Barb Babb, for graciously allowing me to take an armful of clippings from her trees for my Christmas arrangements. As you can see from the photographs of Deodar’s growing on her property, these trees are most beautiful when they keep their lower branches. Needles of the deodar cedar are a silvery-green, making it an incredibly attractive and popular ornamental.


Linda Alexander

About Dallas Garden Buzz

Dallas County Master Gardeners growing and sharing from The Raincatcher's Garden.

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