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Decorating For the Holidays

Decorating for the winter season can go in many different directions; blown up snowman, holiday lights, garland, wreaths, and more.  One option is using what is called NTFP, or non-timber forest products.  Mother Nature provides so many beautiful items that can be harvested and used in our outdoor and indoor décor. The list of NTFP will vary depending on the availability and natural living things in your area. 

Red-twigged Dogwood, birch branches and twigs, American bittersweet, and of course balsam boughs are just a few that can safely be harvested in moderation.  Many of these products can also be purchased from local retailers whose suppliers are required to purchase a permit and follow certain harvesting requirements if taken from state land.  For property owners, I’d encourage you to look at your property and see what you have readily available. But remember to use in moderation. Also use proper pruning techniques so that you are not detracting from the overall appearance of your plants.

Did you know that Minnesota has a native holly?  It is called winterberry. An alternate to using the red berries from winterberry is using the stalk seed heads from sumac.  Keep in mind some may have an allergic reaction to the sumac so wearing gloves is recommended. Also some berries are toxic, so caution should be used in homes where there are children or pets.

In addition to cutting balsam boughs, other evergreen species boughs can be harvested to use in wreaths, swags, or even containers.  By harvesting a little of several species it creates a beautiful color and texture variety.  Spruce branches, junipers, and pines can all be harvested for holiday decorations. 

Balsam boughs is a $20 million industry in Minnesota, with approximately 4,300 tons of boughs be harvested annually.  This is why if you plan to harvest a quantity for more than just yourself or is on public land you should look into the requirements of a permit from the MN DNR.  Keeping our surroundings looking natural rather than pruned or mangled is critical for us all.

Here are some tips for keeping greenery fresh:

  1. Use a clean, sharp tool to cut the branches and immediately place them into water
  2. Keep greenery out of sunlight
  3. Soak the greenery in water overnight before arranging
  4. Keep arrangement, wreaths, or garland in a cool location until use
  5. Keep arrangement away from any heat source
  6. Continue to water arrangement if possible (i.e. those arranged in wet floral foam, or in a container of water)
  7. Check moisture levels in the greenery by bending to check flexibility
  8. Dispose of, and compost material once arrangement has become dry

So get creative this holiday season and utilize the non-timber forest products in your backyard or woodland to create a one-of a kind display.  Happy holidays!


Robin Trott
Extension Educator, Horticulture
(320) 762-3890
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