The tradition of bringing greens indoors comes from Europe and Scandinavia. The winters were long, and bringing greens in the house gave hope that spring would soon be coming. It must have worked, as we still do it today.
If your evergreens are overgrown, now is the time to prune them back into shape and use the greens for decorations. Don’t be afraid to take the pruners and whack those evergreens.
To be safe and to have a cleaner home, avoid using boughs of Norway spruce because they will drop their needles faster than you can vacuum them.
American, Japanese, English and Chinese hollies are all effective in decorating. The female plants of the American, English and Chinese hollies have attractive clusters of red berries. If you are fortunate enough to have Foster No. 2 holly growing in your yard, you’ll find it loaded with bright red berries this year. Pine, yews, fir, junipers, arborvitae and chamaecyparis can also be pruned severely this time of year without creating problems. Branches of euonymus, southern magnolia and cherry laurel are also effective evergreens for decorating.
If you have overgrown boxwoods, reach into the middle of the plants and snap off branches. Yes, simply reach into the middle of each plant, firmly grasp a branch and bend sharply. When temperatures are cold, boxwood branches snap easily. It is safer to break the branches than to use pruning shears since many boxwood diseases can be spread by pruning shears. Breaking branches in the middle of the shrub allows more light to penetrate, allowing new sprouts to grow from inside.
When collecting greens from your yard, bring along a pail full of warm water. Freshly cut branches will absorb more warm water than cold. The more water a cut branch can adsorb, the longer its display life.
Increase the life of evergreens by cutting one to two inches from the base of the stem as soon as you bring them indoors, and then put them in 100-degree water. Change the water at least every other day.
When the time comes to discard the greens, do not throw them into the fireplace. Pine, spruce and fir contain resins and will be extremely low in moisture, generating intense heat and smoke.