Harvesting evergreens for holiday decorations

holiday decor harvested from backyard

Decorating with fresh greenery is a treat for most gardeners getting ready for the holiday festivities. Some buy greens from a local garden center, but did you know you can harvest branches from evergreen conifers to use in your holiday décor?

Whether you are making wreaths, porch pots or swags, Illinois gardens boasts eastern red cedar, pines, spruces, holly, yew, boxwood and junipers that can be used. Cedars, pine, firs, boxwood and holly are the best option for using indoors while others will maintain freshness longer if used in outside décor. While foraging in the garden for evergreen branches, look for cones, berries and decorative twigs to incorporate in your designs.

  1. It is best to harvest after hard frost, as the tree is now dormant and will retain their needles longer.  
  2. If cutting a tip of a branch from an evergreen tree, make sure to leave live foliage behind on the tree as to not kill the entire branch. Boughs should be cut 2‐4 feet from the tip of a branch and above a node  to encourage regeneration. The whole goal is to make it look like you were never there harvesting, so be mindful in your cuts.
  3. If cutting the entire branch, be sure to leave a proper pruning cut behind. Never leave a stub or cut into the collar of the branch. The collar is a swollen base that allows the cut stem to heal.
  4. Never cut more than 25% of the evergreen plant to avoid stress. Evenly distribute cuts around the plant to maintain form.  
  5. Store them in your garage after you have cut them, misting often.
  6. Boxwoods and hollies do not do well if they freeze after cutting and may turn colors.
  7. Shearing or trimming boxwoods is a good practice for young plants to maintain a certain form with dense growth.  Removing all or most of last year’s growth can be done with hand pruners or hedge clippers and used in boughs or wreaths.   
  8. Simply trim branch tips of holly bushes back to a node. Do this throughout the entire plant to maintain or even improve shape. The female holly plants will have bright red berries.
  9. Red twig dogwood displays the brightest color on new growth.  Trimming every other year is a benefit to this popular landscape shrub.  Either take out some of the  older less colorful stems while selecting some of the bright ones or if you haven’t pruned in a while, cut them all to 3-4 inches from the ground.