Daniel Gill, Merrill, Thomas A.
Your gardens are full of plant materials that can add unique beauty to your holiday decorations.
Look for attractive foliage, bright berries, decorative cones or pods. Also consider materials that can be dried.
Dried materials can be used to create garlands, wreaths and decorative arrangements. They don’t need to be watered and will stay attractive throughout the holiday season – looking just as nice at the end as they did at the beginning.
The techniques for drying plant material are not difficult, and the results are well worth the effort. Basically, there are two ways of drying flowers.
Air drying is the simplest method. To air dry, you should cut flowers that are young or not fully open with stems at least 4 inches to 6 inches long.
Next, in most cases, strip off the foliage, since it rarely dries attractively. Then bundle several stems together and fasten them with a rubber band at the end away from the flower heads. Finally, use an S-shaped piece of wire or unbend a paper clip to make a hanger, and hook one end into the rubber band and the other over a nail or string, where the bundle will dry.
The location should be warm with good air circulation – but out of direct sunlight. Depending on the size of the flowers and the thickness of the petals and stems, they will dry in one to two weeks. Lots of flowers air dry well, and you can try virtually anything. Flowers that air dry well include goldenrod, hydrangea, statice, strawflower, celosia, rose buds, yarrow, globe amaranth, grass plumes, rudbeckia, bachelor's buttons and sunflower, just to name a few.
The other method of drying flowers involves the use of a material called silica gel. To do this, fresh flowers are buried in containers of silica gel, a desiccant that rapidly removes the moisture from the flower. The result is a finished product that can look remarkably similar to the flower’s fresh appearance. The flowers are buried face up, and to avoid having to use very deep containers, the stems usually are cut so that you leave only about an inch. Then new stems are created out of florist wire once the flowers are dried.
Attractive seed pods also make great additions to dried arrangements. Look for magnolia and pine cones, crape myrtle, sweet gum balls, tallow tree seeds, acorns, pecans (these can be glued into clusters with other nuts) and many others you can find in your yard or along roadsides.
The leafless branches of deciduous trees are excellent to use as line material in dried arrangements. I’ve used oak, sweet gum, crape myrtle and winged elm. And you can use them natural, gilded or sprayed with artificial snow.
To create a beautifully elegant look much favored by the Victorians, try gilding the foliage or seed pods of certain plants. This is not at all difficult, and the results are spectacular.
To gild foliage, spray it with one or two light, even coats of good quality gold spray paint – holding the can 6-8 inches away from the leaves. Be sure to wear latex gloves to keep your fingers clean, hold the branch in your hand and rotate it while spraying to get even coverage. The gilding keeps the foliage attractive throughout the holiday season.
Any type of seed pod also can be gilded. Foliage that is good for gilding does not have to be dried first, but it should be thick and hold its shape well, such as magnolia, holly, pine, fir, juniper, palm fronds, boxwood, live oak and others. Magnolia foliage is perhaps the most beautiful gilded plant material.
An easy way to create a beautiful, long-lasting garland or wreath with dried materials is to start off with a garland or wreath made of artificial greenery. Hang the artificial garland where it will be displayed and then stuff it with dried flowers, foliage, seed pods and so forth. You may have to wire a few of the heavier materials in place, but you will find that most everything dried is very light and stays in place just fine by pushing it firmly into the artificial garland. Continue stuffing until you have the effect you’re looking for. A wreath can be done on a table and then hung for display. Dried materials also can be arranged in vases or other containers with florist foam.
Beautiful decorations also can be created using Styrofoam forms in the shape of pyramids, cones or topiaries. Use hot glue to attach an even layer of sheet moss or sphagnum moss over the form. Then glue on dried materials in a way that you like. These creations make great gifts and can often stay on display year round.
Another way to use these dried flowers is to save any broken pieces of colorful dried flowers in a plastic bag. Once you’ve collected a cup or two, sprinkle them with fragrant potpourri oils available at craft shops. Then shake the bag to distribute the oil over the dried material and seal it in an airtight container for 10 to 14 days. This homemade potpourri is great to use around the house and is also a wonderful gift for holiday giving.
Get It Growing is a weekly feature on home lawn and garden topics prepared by experts in the LSU AgCenter. For more information on such topics, contact your parish LSU AgCenter Extension office or visit our Web site at www.lsuagcenter.com. A wide range of publications and a variety of other resources are available.