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Designing with Greens by Candice Miller

Evergreens are always a nice addition to the landscape. They provide a pop of green foliage in the winter when everything else in the landscape is without leaves or winter interest, said a University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator.

"But these evergreens are more than just for landscape use," said Candice Miller. "Evergreens can be easily cut and harvested for use indoors or outdoors as seasonal decorations."

Some common evergreen needled species that hold up well as cut greens include white pine, junipers, yew, cedars, firs, and spruce. Broadleaf species such as holly, magnolia, or boxwood are excellent choices as well. If none of these species are available in your landscape, many local garden centers and florists have cut greens available for purchase during the holiday season.

"A good rule of thumb to follow when harvesting cut greens is to never remove more than one-third of the plant material or branch on a particular plant," said Miller. "The goal would be to still maintain a nice-looking shrub or tree so one should remove foliage from various parts of the plant with the goal of making it look like no foliage was removed at all.

"Many times we think of evergreens for use only in wreaths, which is a great way to utilize the greens, but there are many other uses for cut evergreens," she said. "Outdoors, evergreens can be used to spruce up last season's containers. Simply remove the dead foliage from your fall or summer containers and insert your cut evergreens into the remaining soil. The soil will hold the greens in place and allow you to create an arrangement in whatever shape you desire."

Branches, like willow or birch, can be a great addition to add some height to the container.

Swags, garlands, kissing balls, or centerpieces can be created with evergreens and placed outdoors or indoors as decoration. If they are indoors, the excellent fragrance of the evergreens can be fully enjoyed. If they remain outdoors, they will stay fresh all season.

"Evergreens by nature are a very long-lasting green, but there are a few tips to make those greens hold up well throughout the entire season," Miller said. "If the greens need to be stored prior to use, placing them in a bucket of water or in a cardboard box in a cool location is the best way to prevent them from drying out quickly. Before bringing the greenery inside, one can also soak them in water overnight to rehydrate them. Once in place indoors, try to keep the greens out of the sunlight and away from heat. Greens can be spritzed regularly with water to help them remain hydrated. Leaves could also be sprayed with an antitranspirant to help seal in moisture."

Miller also cautioned against using antitranspirants on juniper berries, cedar, or blue spruce. The product can damage the wax coating that gives these plants their distinctive color.

"Finally, safety should be a concern with using evergreens indoors as well," she said. "When greens age, they become very dry and brittle, which can then become a fire hazard when they come in contact with a heat source."

Make sure that any wreaths, swags, and garlands that you bring indoors are as fresh as possible. Check needles by bending them. They should be flexible and not break. Avoid greenery that is shedding or that has brown, dry tips. Never place fresh greenery near heat sources, such as space heaters, heater vents, or sunny windows. Commercial sprays are also available that can be used to provide some fire resistance.

"When these tips are utilized, evergreens can be a great way to provide excellent fragrance and holiday atmosphere to your home," Miller said