Planting a Garden for the Holidays



If you like to bring lots of fresh greenery and nature-based décor into your house for the holidays, think about planting more evergreen trees and shrubs with winter interest.

Harvesting fresh plant materials is a wonderful way to celebrate the winter season and spruce up your home with fragrance and color. Plant conifers for scented foliage you can use for garlands and wreaths, shrubs with berries for accent decorations, or bring in blooms from camellias to brighten up your favorite Christmas vase.  Below is a list of some of our favorite plants for holiday decorating.  (If you don’t have a great selection this year, our staff is always available to create fresh wreaths and garlands for you.)

Foliage

Greenery is a good base for nature-based decorations. Fir is the classic choice for garlands and wreaths, but other trees and shrubs that are more common in home gardens are also good options. They can be the base of the wreath or added as decorations on an existing wreath.

Japanese Cedar (Cryptomeria japonica) has a light pine scent. Use the greenery for wreaths and garlands. In the landscape, cultivars ‘Yoshino’ and ‘Radicans’ reach 30 ft tall and are popular choices for screening.

“Cryptomeria japonica” by Jebulon is licensed under CC0.

“Cryptomeria japonica” by Jebulon is licensed under CC0.

Our native Magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora)  is a popular choice for Christmas decorations. It adds an elegant look to wreaths and garlands with its thick leathery texture and dark green color. The pods are also good to use for decorating. In the landscape, small cultivars like ‘Teddy Bear’ and ‘Little Gem’ are good as accent plants or for screening in smaller gardens. For larger spaces, use ‘Bracken’s Brown Beauty’ or ‘D.D. Blanchard’.

“Magnolia grandiflora” by Vilalonga is licensed by CC BY-SA-2.5

“Magnolia grandiflora” by Vilalonga is licensed by CC BY-SA-2.5

Arizona Cypress (Cupressus glabra ‘Blue Ice’) is a narrowly upright conifer with silver-blue foliage and wonderful cedar fragrance. In wreaths it lends an interesting texture and color against dark greens like fir and magnolia. In the landscape it makes a stately specimen with its blue color and threadlike texture. This tree needs a good amount of space and sunlight. Allow for it to grow 45ft tall and 15ft wide at full maturity.

“Smooth Arizona Cypress foliage at the BBG” by Ragesoss is licensed by CC BY-SA-3.0

“Smooth Arizona Cypress foliage at the BBG” by Ragesoss is licensed by CC BY-SA-3.0

Arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis cvs.) Large arborvitaes like ‘Green Giant’ provide the most foliage for cutting, but even mature specimens of the smaller ‘Emerald’ can be a good source of greenery to bring indoors in the winter. The bright green foliage brightens up wreaths and lends a feathery texture. In the landscape, ‘Emerald’ is a good choice for a narrow screening hedge in small gardens, while ‘Green Giant’ requires more space, reaching 30ft tall and 10ft wide.

“Thuja occidentalis” by Spedona is licensed under CC0.

“Thuja occidentalis” by Spedona is licensed under CC0.

Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana) is the traditional native Christmas tree of the South. It’s prickly foliage might deter some, but it has a wonderful cedar scent and can easily be used in wreaths and decorations.Blue berries are clustered on the foliage fall to winter. In the landscape, plant narrow upright cultivars like ‘Spartan’ or ‘Brody’ for a narrow hedge, or use as an pyramidal accent plant.

“Eastern Redcedar” by PSNH is licensed by CC BY-ND 2.0

“Eastern Redcedar” by PSNH is licensed by CC BY-ND 2.0

Boxwood (Buxus sempervirens) is an excellent addition to wreaths and garlands alongside conifers, or even alone as a wreath. Use boxwoods in the landscape for foundation plants or formal accents.

“Boxwood” by Alexas Fotos is licensed by CC0

“Boxwood” by Alexas Fotos is licensed by CC0

Florida Anise (Illicium floridanum) is a beautiful but underused native shrub that grows well in wet part-shade conditions. Its evergreen, anise-scented foliage provides wonderful fragrance indoors in the winter. The leaves are typically dark green, but there is also a yellow colored cultivar called ‘Florida Sunshine.’

Illicium 'Woodlander's Ruby'

Illicium ‘Woodlander’s Ruby’

Eucalyptus has ornamental blue-green foliage with a lovely fragrance, perfect for flower arrangements or as an element in a wreath. In the landscape, it is typically evergreen, although cold winters can cause it to die back. To keep this tree smaller, prune to the ground in late winter like you would a perennial.

"Eucalyptus" by Hans is licensed by CC0.

“Eucalyptus” by Hans is licensed by CC0.

Berries

American Holly (Ilex opaca) is a native shrub with dark evergreen leaves and showy red berries. Use stems with berries for a classic accent in wreaths and garlands. In the landscape, American Holly is a dense tree that reaches 30ft tall. American Holly is a dioecious species, so only females will bear fruit, and a male species is needed to pollinate the female tree.

"American Holly Branches" by Luke is licensed under CC0

“American Holly Branches” by Luke is licensed under CC0

Winterberry (Ilex verticillata) is a native deciduous holly. In winter, the berries persist on bare branches and can be cut and brought indoors. In the landscape, winterberry is a multi-stemmed shrub that reaches about 8 feet at maturity. The berries are only borne on female plants; provide a male pollinator to ensure berry production.

“Winterberries” by Liz West is licensed by CC BY 2.0

“Winterberries” by Liz West is licensed by CC BY 2.0

Nandina (Nandina domestica)- Nandina berries are a good alternative to holly berries and can be used in the same way. In the landscape, the straight species provides the largest harvest of berries. Most dwarf cultivars do not produce berries.

Nandina berries, Parliament Gardens, Melbourne Australia (4618510236) by Rexness licensed by CC BY-SA 2.0

Nandina berries, Parliament Gardens, Melbourne Australia (4618510236) by Rexness licensed by CC BY-SA 2.0

Pyracantha or Firethorn (Pyracantha coccinea) is another good berry for winter decorations. Stems are loaded with berries in fall and persist into winter if the birds don’t eat them. Be careful of thorns when using cut branches as decorations! Both red, gold, and orange varieties are available. In the landscape, pyracantha is a large or medium sized shrub that’s also suitable for espaliers.

“Red Pommes of Firethorn (Pyracatha)” by Laitr Keiows is licensed by CC BY-SA 3.0

“Red Pommes of Firethorn (Pyracatha)” by Laitr Keiows is licensed by CC BY-SA 3.0

Flowers

Camellia is the classic winter flower in the South. While some varieties won’t start blooming until later on in the winter, there are many fall-blooming Camellias that are already in full bloom. Try planting Yuletide for red Christmas blooms, or Setsugekka for white.

Yuletide Camellia

Yuletide Camellia

Setsugekka Camellia

Setsugekka Camellia

Herbs

Evergreen herbs like Rosemary, Sage, and Thyme can make great Christmas decorations and centerpieces. The fragrant foliage freshens up the home and can be used in combination with other elements like pinecones, magnolia leaves and flowers.

“Rosemary” by David R. Tribble is licensed by CC BY-SA 3.0

“Rosemary” by David R. Tribble is licensed by CC BY-SA 3.0