How to Select, Use, and Care for Live Christmas Greenery


Decorating with live Christmas greenery is a tradition of old that dates back to at least the 16th century. Stories of why and how it got started are wide and varied, as is the symbolism of the evergreen.  

For many, evergreens symbolized hope and life; and the interpretation was slightly different for individual groups. It was a symbol of eternal life for Christians, and for others, it signified protection and anticipation of spring.

Evergreens are still a cherished decorating tradition today. They add an air of celebration, nostalgia, beauty, and expectancy to our Yuletide celebrations.

In this blog, I will outline how to choose healthy fresh Christmas greenery, how to decorate with fresh Christmas greenery, and how to keep your fresh cut greenery smelling lovely and looking great to last through the holiday season.  

How to Choose Healthy Christmas Greens

The fresher and more hydrated natural Christmas greens are, the longer they will last.

Dehydrated, dry greens will spoil and turn brown quickly. Remember to cut or purchase fresh greenery as near as possible to the date you expect to use them so they aren’t sitting around drying out in the process of waiting.  

7 Things to Look for When Purchasing Fresh Winter Greens

1. First, consider purchasing your greens from a local grower. Local usually means fresher because products are closer and spend less time in travel. 

2. A healthy, deep green colour indicates that it has maintained its water content. Signs of dehydrated greens include a faded, greyish colour, or brown tips.

3. Fragrance is another indicator of good hydration. When greens are dry, they lose their smell. The most fragrant greens are Fir varieties, like Noble, Douglas, and Balsam Fir, Cedar, and Pine.

4. Solid and flexible branches indicate freshness. Weak, wilted branches are an indicator of dehydration.

5. Firm and pliable needles signal newness. Gently run your hand down the branches, give them a gentle shake, and see what happens. Needles that are brittle, weak, and falling off signal that the greens are losing their turgor, another sign of dryness.

6. Stems with good length, this is something to note especially for fresh bundles. It’s good to have some wiggle room to trim off old ends for rehydrating.

7. Insect-free. Introducing bugs and insects into your yard or home is never a good idea. Take a good look at the natural greenery, both top, and bottom (insects love hanging around on the undersides of branches) and give them a gentle shake to check for bugs.

How to Decorate with Fresh Cut Christmas Greens

Live Christmas greens are an excellent Christmas decorating option with endless possibilities.  Natural greens are available as fresh branches, stems, garlands, swags, wreaths, and in arranged containers commonly called drop-ins or pop-ins.

Fresh Christmas greens can be found in combinations of fresh pine, juniper, spruce, ivy, and cedar branches, with other things like holly berries thrown in for added beauty.

You can also find bunches of a single kind of greenery.

Christmas greens convey a cozy, merry, Christmassy ambiance wherever they land.

Live Christmas greens work well both indoors and out. Just toss in some bows, ribbons, raffia, pinecones, magnolia leaves, moss, dried flowers, and ornaments to bring them to life!

Let’s talk about some Christmas Greenery decorating ideas:

Fresh Christmas Garlands 

Garlands give banisters, handrails, dining room tables, fences, gates, and fireplace mantels an elegant, festive look.

They can also be used to adorn doorways and arbors, too. Fasten them well for the safety of those climbing and descending stairs.

Related: How to Make an Evergreen Garland

Fresh Christmas Wreaths

Wreaths work well indoors and outdoors. Wreaths have traditionally been used on doors; but they also look great above fireplaces, in entryways, on walls, lampposts, fences, and benches. 

Related: How to Make a Christmas Wreath

Fresh Christmas Greens in Pots and Containers 

Christmas greens arranged in containers give both inside and outside doorways a stately, welcoming feel and look. 

An easy and convenient way to make this happen is with premade drop-in arrangements that can be purchased and popped into containers. Christmas drop-ins are fun because you can individualize them to your own unique style by adding bows, lights, or ornaments. 

How to Keep Your Natural Christmas Greenery Smelling Lovely and Looking Great 

Cedar is one of the most fragrant types of winter greenery.

Fresh Christmas greens are like fresh cut flowers and losing water is a natural part of plant metabolism. Water escapes through leaves and stems in a process called transpiration.

Keeping Christmas greens hydrated is the secret to their longevity. They need clear, clean, fresh water. That’s all.

Christmas greens differ from cut flowers in that they don’t need any additives in the water; research shows that there is no real added benefit by incorporating any preservatives to the water.

Here are some tips on how to keep fresh winter greens hydrated:

First, Soak Fresh Christmas Greens Before Making any Creations 

For natural Christmas greens staying indoors – completely submerge the fresh greenery, wreaths, garlands, and bunches in cool, clear water to hydrate overnight or up to 24 hours. A bathtub is a great place for this. Trim the stem ends with sharp clippers at a 45° angle about 1″ (2.5 cm) from the tip to reopen the xylem for water uptake. Make sure that these ends stay under water. If not, they will reseal.

For Christmas greens staying outside – like premade drop-ins, give them a good drink of clear water, even if the temperatures are freezing. It will create an ice block to keep the stems sturdily in place, and if the temperatures warm up, there is water available for the arrangement. Sometimes fresh Christmas greens turn brown with yo-yo-ing temperatures that cause them to dry out.  If you choose to soak wreaths and garlands before placing them outdoors, let them dry completely before putting them out.

How to Thaw Frozen Christmas Greenery

If the greens have been frozen, allow them to slowly acclimate to room temperature slowly when bringing them indoors and avoid pulling at the stems and branches.

Let the fresh greenery unfold and expand at its own pace. Stems and needles may snap if they are cold and manipulated before they are ready. 

Mist Christmas Greens Daily 

Indoor Christmas greens will need a daily spritz of clear water on the prairies.

Spritzing every other day should be good for more humid climates like the lower mainland of BC, southern Ontario, and the US.

Be careful to avoid spraying ribbons and ornaments; they may bleed colour.

Adding a humidifier to increase the ambient humidity in the space would be helpful to keep up moisture levels, too.

Anti-transpirant sprays help prevent moisture loss in natural greenery and make the foliage shiny. Allow the foliage to dry after soaking or hydrating before spraying.

Spray the greens after arranging them and give the spray time to dry before decorating. There is no need to spray with water after applying the anti-transpirant because the water will wash the anti-transpirant off. Anti-transpirant sprays can be found in floral shops and garden centers – but check before you go to any establishment to purchase it, so you know they have it.

Keep Natural Christmas Greens Cool 

Where Christmas greens are displayed affects their life span.

Greenery kept outdoors stays fresher longer than indoors simply because it is cooler outside. For example, on the Canadian prairies, where temperatures are freezing, fresh greens will last 3-4 weeks in the open air.

Warm, dry air is dehydrating for winter greens. Keep fresh greenery away from heat sources like wood burning fireplaces, electric fireplaces, heat registers, and space heaters.

Sunny windows and incandescent Christmas lights are also sources of drying heat. LED lights don’t give off heat, making them an excellent choice for fresh greenery. 

If the fresh greens piece is moveable, like a centerpiece, consider moving it to a cooler place like the basement, a cold room, or slightly heated garage to extend its life.

Trim Back Dry Foliage 

Remove dry stems and clip off browned ends to keep everything looking top-notch.

Caring for Christmas Greenery in a Nutshell

Fresh Christmas greens can liven up any space and add amazing fragrance and natural aesthetics to any space.

If you’ve been on the fence about fresh greens for your Christmas decor as you’re afraid of the work, it’s time to take the leap!

Caring for natural Christmas greens doesn’t have to be complicated. It can be summed up in two words: fresh and hydrate.

Selecting the freshest greenery when you need it (and not weeks before) and keeping up the water content are optimal for maintaining vivid, fragrant, beautiful greens.

For more on natural Christmas decorating, see How to Choose and Care for a Real Christmas Tree and How to Care for Your Poinsettia in 3 Simple Steps

©Sharon Wallish Murphy ©Gardening with Sharon

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