Planting for Holiday Harvest Decorations

  • Difficulty Rating: Beginner
Planting for Holiday Harvest Decorations

A cutting garden usually refers to a perennial garden filled with spring and summer blossoms.

During the warm months, we stroll through these beds, selecting perfect flowers emanating fantastic fragrance for our tabletop bouquets. But, what happens in winter when our perennials go to earth for the cold season? How can we continue to decorate our homes with beauty, flavor and fragrance from the garden even in the dead of winter?

Ideally, our gardens are designed with year-round interest in mind. In midwinter, beautiful bark, colorful berries and brilliant foliage can compose a stunning garden vignette. As well, we can look to these year-round performers to create DIY wreaths, swags and bouquets.
Needle and scale evergreens like cypress, juniper, hemlock and fir provide the foundation material for holiday decorations. Pine is lovely, but watch out for all that sap! Plus, pine and hemlock cones make beautiful finishing accents – whether natural or dipped in a bit of shimmery gold craft paint.

Once you’ve built – or even purchased – a basic evergreen wreath, get out in the garden with your bypass shears and handsaw to gather great garden add-ons. Need help choosing the right tools? My favorites are Fiskars Professional Bypass Pruner and Folding Pruning Saw. When I get down to fine-cleaning my cuttings for decorating, I pull out my Softouch® Micro-tip® Pruning Snips. If I need to trim wire as well as plant material, I reach for my Garden Multi-snips.

Layered above your foundation of evergreen, cuttings from a few colorful plants can turn a generic wreath into a dazzling doorway specimen. Clip multicolored Nandina leaves and berries to accent your creation. Snip lengths of Leucothoe to add pops of red or cream. Gather brilliant shoots from twig dogwood, bundling them over your base layer or simply twined together to create a twig-wreath. Cuttings from blueberry bushes and many maple trees will introduce pops of red. Fuzzy-textured heath and heather add interest and may even offer a few tiny, colorful flowers. Holly berries and branches are traditional additions to holiday decorations; just note that they’ll droop quickly without the use of a wilt-stopping product. Got ferns? Clip a few fronds and twine them with your colorful cuttings to add unique texture to your festoonery.

Herbal garlands make inexpensive homemade gifts and fill holiday kitchens with useful, delicious fragrance and flavor. Clip bundles from potager favorites like astringent rosemary, colorful sage, woody thyme, towering bay, winter savory and lavender. Tie mixed or individual bundles with festive ribbon or weave into a kitchen circlet as hostess gifts for your best cooking friends.


All of these combos, woven together for outdoor holiday décor should last for the entire holiday season in cool weather locales. Brought inside or created in warmer climates, they may crisp and fade more rapidly.

Don’t have any of these plants in your garden yet and wondering how to work them in for the future? First, check your USDA zone to be sure your selections will survive in your climate. Next consider your location and whether it fits the plant’s needs.

Shrubby herbs require full sunlight, well-drained soil and moderate winter temperatures. They blend beautifully into rose, vegetable and perennial gardens, adding much-needed interest to beds that may otherwise look bare in winter. Keep in mind, a mild freeze is fine, but prolonged winter may do them in. Tree herbs, like Bay, require room -- remember, they grow into large, evergreen trees.

Nandina performs beautifully in most garden settings. Whether you have shade or sun, this is a great workhorse in the garden. Plus, it comes in a number of shapes and sizes. Beware though, in some areas, it may work a little too hard -- be sure it isn’t on your state or local weed list.


Twig dogwood is a native in the Pacific Northwest. It loves moisture but will perform in drier spots as well. Be sure to explore the many cultivars like ‘Midwinter Fire’, which brightens up even the dullest gray winter day.

Conifers and maples come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. Make your selections carefully based on your location and your space. If you don’t have room for a 80’ tree, be sure to choose one that fits your space. Right plant: right place is key!

Need to cover some ground? In hot, sunny spots try a mix of heaths and heathers – heath blooms in winter; heather blooms in summer. In a shadier spot, pop in ferns and leucothoe.

Creating a garden filled with year-round interest plants will give you gorgeous views even on the coldest, dreariest winter day. Plus, you’ll have a cutting garden every day of the year.