There they were: dozens of Christmas tree branches piled high in a shopping cart just outside the store’s gardening center. They had been sawed off the bottoms of trees and were there for the taking.
The only problem was, they looked scraggly.
A colleague with a keen eye for decorating had suggested I do a story about decorating with leftover limbs from live Christmas trees. They smell wonderful, are stunningly elegant in their simplicity and, best of all, are free at a lot of tree lots.
But as I pulled one branch after another from the cart, I began to question her advice. A large portion of each one was bare wood, with all the greenery concentrated at the ends. Nevertheless, I took about a dozen branches home to see what I could do. It turns out, the answer is quite a lot.
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You can get branches at lots, nurseries and farms that sell fresh Christmas trees. I found mine at Home Depot.
The key is to trim the green sprigs from the woody parts of the stems, leaving an assortment of shapes and sizes of greenery. Some of my pieces were single, tiny sprigs; others were larger, with several small branches. I used scissors to cut the pieces, though pruning shears probably would have worked better on the larger ones.
The tiered candelabra
The first thing I did was scour my house for containers to hold the greenery. In a cupboard I found a 1960s tiered dessert stand that had belonged to my mother. It’s chipped so I never use it.
I placed clear votive holders with candles on each tier and surrounded them with the smaller sprigs, fresh cranberries and silver bells.
It sparkles when the candles are lit and the greenery hides the chips. Now I have a purpose for a damaged yet beloved item.
A glowing bowl of boughs
Next up: a large, cone-shaped glass bowl with a narrow base and wide rim. I usually use it to serve fresh fruit salad.
I filled it with water and placed a silver champagne goblet in the middle.
Then I arranged layers of larger branches with multiple sprigs radiating from the goblet (with the cut ends of the stems in the water), creating a lush, wreath-like arrangement.
A pillar candle in the goblet surrounded by green ball ornaments completes this festive piece, which would make a perfect centerpiece on a dining table. Berries, pine cones or a beaded garland would be pretty around the candle too.
The best part is this should last several weeks if I water it regularly.
This piece requires full branches, so put two or three of the nicest, fullest ones aside as soon as you get them home.
Bind their stems together using twine, florist wire or duct tape. Attach some sort of hanger to the back of the swag at the stems. I secured a looped piece of twine to mine. Wrap ribbon around the stems, covering the hanger and the tape, twine or wire. Create a bow and attach it to the front. (Several websites feature instructions and videos for creating bows.)
Attach ornaments or garland to the greenery and hang.
Spriggy table runner
Line candlesticks down the center of a table. Layer a combination of larger and smaller sprigs in and around them. Accent with whatever you want. I used green apples, fresh cranberries, pine cones and a sheer metallic ribbon.
Pinterest and other home decorating websites are full of ideas for using greenery. Here are a few of them:
▪ Tuck sprigs into napkin rings and into ribbons on gifts
▪ Layer rings of limes, fresh cranberries and lemons in a glass compote and put greenery in the center sprouting out
▪ Tie larger limbs with ribbons to outdoor lampposts and the bases of table lamps
▪ Place small single sprigs in champagne flutes and line them up on a table
▪ Place in a Mason jar with burlap ribbon around its neck
Great containers for fresh greens include metal buckets, wooden boxes, baskets, vintage milk cans, vintage teakettles and almost anything white.
Keeping the branches beautiful
Greenery tends to dry out. Fir, the longest lasting kind, will keep for only about four weeks indoors under the most ideal circumstances.
▪ Re-cut the ends of stems and smash them with a hammer so they absorb more water. Then soak them overnight in the tub.
▪ Use LED lights with the greenery because they don’t get as hot as other lights.
▪ Keep greenery away from heat vents, the fireplace and sunny windows, which will dry them out.
▪ Check for freshness every couple of days. Replace sections that are brown or dropping needles.
▪ Mist every few days.
▪ Do not use greenery in displays with candles that are not inside glass.
▪ Do not use greenery with poisonous berries such as holly, yew, ivy, Jerusalem cherry, bittersweet, crown of thorns or mistletoe if you have children or pets.