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The Neighborhood Gardener –
Have Yourself a Florida-Friendly Little Christmas

By Molly Griner, Polk County Master Gardener

It's that time of year again; time to decorate our homes with festive greenery and colorful berries. And while we may not have balsam fir trees, here in Central Florida we do have a bountiful storehouse of decorating materials right here in our yards and neighborhoods!

Pine cones and ornaments in dried palm boatMany native and Florida-Friendly plants can be grown in our yards which provide natural materials for decorating.  For example, do you have a queen palm? Know someone with a pine tree? You can make a simple but elegant centerpiece with a dried palm seed pod (boat) filled with pine boughs and pine cones!  Not enough? Add holly berries, or seashells you've collected.

In planning for natural holiday decorating, there are three components that can go into your designs: evergreens, dried or preserved plant material, and color (blossoms/fruits).

Decorating with nature is really easy. Since by design, these materials are natural, you don't have to worry about creating a formal arrangement:  think "gather" as opposed to "arrange," and decorating becomes fun!

  1. Florida-Friendly evergreens:  There are many easy-to-grow evergreens for any yard. For larger yards, consider all varieties of pine trees, Southern red cedar, magnolia, and varieties of hollies.  For smaller yards, consider 'Little Gem' magnolia, low spreading junipers, 'Blue Point' juniper (10' tall), and 'Sea Green' juniper.  Great plants for all yards include coontie, Simpson's stopper, wax myrtle, and ferns if you have shade.
  2. For dried or preserved plant material:  Take your cues from Mother Nature—dried seed pods, often overlooked, can make fantastic decorations. For example, seed pods from crape myrtle blossoms are beautiful in arrangements!  Sweet gum trees' seed pods are tailor-made to become ornaments. Branches from winged elm are very unusual and awesome in arrangements. Butterfly pea vine (Callaeum macropterum, formerly Mascagnia macroptera) has yellow blossoms; later the seed pods look just like butterflies!  Look around your yard or neighborhood; look on the ground, look with new curiosity at the variety of dried blossoms or seed pods and imagine how they might look in a vase or bowl.
    1. Vines:  See a vine climbing up your tree? Could be a grapevine, cross vine or Virginia creeper. Cut the vine, leaves and all, gather into a circle of any size, and hang it up.  In a week you'll have either a foundation for a vine to which you can add other materials, or leave undecorated as just a simple vine of beauty.
    2. Natural holiday arrangement with citrus and palm frondsPalms and palmetto fronds provide a striking and sophisticated structure, alone or in an arrangement.
    3. Weeds: Yes, you would be amazed at the beauty of plant material found even on an empty lot:  grasses, twigs, old blossoms/seed pods.  If you doubt this one, take a child with you whose preconceptions have not been formed. Ask the child to create a bouquet. You might be surprised at the results!
    4. Preserve your own decorations:  citrus slices dried in the oven add color to wreaths and arrangements. An idea for a great tree decorated naturally:  tiny white lights, assorted dried citrus (oranges, limes, lemons), berries tied with raffia bows, twigs glued into star shapes, small dried palmetto branches tucked into the tree!
    5. Many plants can be preserved by immersing in a glycerin-water mix.  Magnolia leaves are especially beautiful when preserved.
  3. Blossoms/Fruits:  Christmas colors, depending upon the weather, can include coral honeysuckle, turk's cap, dwarf powderpuff, Christmas cactus, poinsettia, and berries from many varieties of holly.  If you have shade, don't forget camellias. They are not hard to grow, and depending upon the variety, can provide color from fall through spring.A wreath of Spanish moss and sea shells

Think Florida—think natural! The next time you're tempted to purchase a plastic poinsettia, consider having fun decorating with nature as your guide.  And have yourself a merry little Florida-Friendly Christmas!


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