Holiday Decorating with Backyard Greenery

Published 7:00 am Sunday, December 24, 2023

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by Katie Nichols – Alabama Cooperative Extension

Deck the halls with boughs of holly — and pine cones, cotton bolls and magnolia seed pods. Backyard greenery can be combined to create beautiful holiday decorations. Trees, shrubs, plants and fruits are ready-made materials to build show-stopping indoor and outdoor decor.

“Evergreen tree and shrub species make excellent decorations for winter and can withstand the elements,” said Megan Jones, an Alabama Cooperative Extension System home grounds, gardens and pests regional agent. “These evergreen species include ivy, holly, cedar, Leyland cypress, arborvitae, pittosporum, podocarpus, pine and viburnum.”

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Other outdoor materials to consider using include the following:

  • acorns and pecans
  • pinecones
  • holly and nandina berries
  • hydrangea blossoms
  • cotton bolls
  • lotus and magnolia seed pods
  • pyracantha
  • reindeer moss
  • rose hips
  • dried fruit (i.e. citrus, apples, cranberries)
  • dried okra pods
  • millet

Jones suggests gathering materials in the cool of the morning, when materials are fresh after the previous night. She recommends using sharp pruning tools when collecting live greenery. After gathering a plant material sample, put it directly in water to help prolong and preserve its freshness.

“Distribute cuts evenly around the plant to preserve the natural form,” she said. “When possible, make pruning cuts inside the canopy so the cut is hidden.”

Keep in mind the materials for decorations are natural materials. It is possible to track insects or animals into the house when bringing in outdoor materials. Assembling materials and working outdoors is an easy way to prevent this from occurring. Shaking the material and dunking it entirely in water will help prevent insects from lingering as well.

Jones said it is important to remember to keep pets away from these plant materials, as some material might be noxious to animals.

Jones offers some simple craft ideas using nature to take household decorating to the next level this holiday season.

“People often make kissing balls as an alternative to mistletoe sprigs,” Jones said. “These are generally made of short sprigs of boxwood or other greenery and then hung where you would traditionally find mistletoe.”

To create a hanging decoration with natural materials, gather a small, round potato, wire and cut greenery. Using the potato as a base, fasten a piece of wire for hanging and insert sprigs of greenery until the potato is completely covered. The potato will keep the cut greenery fresh. Once finished inserting the sprigs, decorate with ribbons, berries, mistletoe and other festive greenery to help complete the look.

A wreath is another fun decorative option. First, collect items such as a muscadine vines, acorns, twigs, pinecones, lichens and any other desired materials. Use the fresh vines to turn into a wreath. Place these items around the wreath and hot glue them onto it. Like the kissing ball, adding ribbons and other materials will complete the overall look. This wreath can be used for many years to come.

Jones offers these tips for holiday decorating with backyard greenery, but the options are limitless. Get creative and decorate with the natural things found around the home. Find more information by visiting Alabama Extension online at