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Ask a Master Gardener:

BY: Carol Williams, Mobile County Master Gardener, www.mobilecountymastergardeners.org

Mobile could be nicknamed The Green City. Visitors often note the number of green growing plants and trees and how lush our city appears compared to other parts of the country or the Gulf Coast. Part of the joy of our outdoor greenery is that we can bring it inside to brighten our homes for Thanksgiving and the winter holidays.


In fact, it is a Southern tradition to step into our own yard and harvest plenty of decorative leaves, limbs, and cuttings to create centerpieces, mantel pieces, wreaths, swags, and garlands. Even the smilax vine, smilax maritima, often considered a weed, can be beautifully used in holiday decorations. Add a few LED lights so that nothing ignites, and our homes glow with holiday joy.


To extend that joy throughout the season, plan carefully which plants to use and how best to cut and preserve them for the length of the season. First, choose plants best suited to keep as much of their moisture as possible. Boxwood, fir, cedar, magnolia brighten the décor, and many other plants can be used. (See list of suggestions below.)

When harvesting greenery, remember the plant still needs to retain its beauty and health. Avoid all new-growth shoots, tender branches, and leaf tips, and especially diseased leaves. After each large cut, take note of its overall effect on the looks of the plant and its usefulness in the designs.


While harvesting, use clean sharp tools to make the cuts and keep a container of water nearby, immediately immersing the stems to keep them fresh. Crush the ends of woody stems so they will absorb more water. Before arranging, rinse all greenery carefully to remove dirt and insects. Commercial sprays are also available to reduce water loss from your cut greenery. Green florist’s foam can also extend the life of a container arrangement. Be sure to soak it in water overnight and tape it into place in the container before beginning the arrangement.


A couple of alerts: Plants with berries attract a lot of attention but many of those berries, like holly and mistletoe, may make inquisitive pets and children ill. (Yaupon holly is holly vomitoria for a reason!) If choosing mistletoe with berries, be sure to dispose of it in the garbage as its tiny, sticky seeds can infest nearby trees. Also, be sure to get the owner’s permission to harvest if the plants are not your own. Just because it is near a roadside or public place doesn’t mean it’s available.


For longest life, keep arrangements out of sunlight and away from any heat source. Spritz them with water every day or two to freshen them. Be sure to keep container arrangements filled with water, too. For more information, see Holiday Decorating with Fresh Greenery | Home & Garden Information Center (clemson.edu). Access science-based information about any garden question at the Alabama Cooperative Extension’s aces.edu.


Recommended greenery from the Mobile area: cryptomeria, juniper, pine (not long leaf), fir, podocarpus (yew), cephalotaxus (Japanese plum), boxwood, magnolia, rosemary, wax myrtle, Eastern red cedar, cyrilla, Eastern hemlock, cliftonia (ti ti), persea (red bay), camellia branches, arborvitae, cleyera, bay leaf branches, hollies: ilex vomitoria, ilex opcea, ilex cassine, ilex glabra.


If you have neither the time nor the greenery to make your own decorations, check out the Mobile County Master Gardeners’ Greenery Sale and Mobile Botanical Gardens’ Holiday Market information below. What: Master Gardener Greenery Sale at the MBG Holiday Market

When: Fri, Dec 2 (9 am-3 pm) Sat, Dec 3 (9am-Noon)

Where: Mobile Botanical Gardens, 5151 Museum Drive

For best selection: Pre-order online Nov 1-21, 2022 at

Choose pick-uptime at check-out: Dec 2 or 3, 9-11 am


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