Does your landscape include plants that help you with holiday decorating?

Published 11:47 am Sunday, December 5, 2021

By Patricia R. Drackett
Director, The Crosby Arboretum, Mississippi State University
Assistant Extension Professor of Landscape Architecture

It’s the time of year when we explore new ways to decorate our homes for the holidays. I’ve been thinking back to the festive garlands, homemade holiday wreaths, and decorations crafted over the years from native plant materials. It doesn’t take much time to arrange a few clippings from your evergreen shrubs to add to your dining table or mantelpiece. These can provide a simple, no-cost but lovely finishing touch!

Fresh evergreens such as pine, magnolia, holly, cedar, or juniper will perk up a room, especially if graced by an arrangement of candles (do be sure to extinguish them when you leave!). A shiny brass bowl or urn is quite attractive when filled with greens.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Use a liner without a drainage hole and fill a container with water for longer lasting arrangements. Although they are not necessary, forms made of floral foam will provide additional support and shape to your project. Garlands can be created by wrapping branches along lengths of twine with floral wire. Ribbons, pinecones, or strings of lights can be added to festive arrangements.

Two common hollies found in the area are yaupon holly and American holly. These evergreen trees offer you perfect greenery for your wreath and garland projects and are quite attractive when mixed with pine boughs or Southern magnolia sprays.

Yaupon (Ilex vomitoria) is a common, small-leaved holly found along area roadsides, forest edges, and fence lines that grows to around 20 feet. The lacy shrub or small tree is exceptionally tough and is both salt tolerant and drought tolerant. Yaupon is also becoming increasingly popular as a tea due to its high caffeine content. An internet search for yaupon along with our state name and “tea” will yield sources. While you may not give this plant a second look, keep in mind that birds and wildlife in need of a late winter snack or a location for nest-building in spring will have an entirely different perspective on this plant. The branches are still prized by modern archers for creating arrow shafts.

Greenery from American holly has a history of being used for Christmas greenery. Carry your pruning shears with you when trimming greens for your table or mantle. Rather than just snapping off limbs from a tree or shrub, it is kinder to the plant to remove branches properly and judiciously. If you collect American holly, the project is made easier with a sturdy pair of leather gloves, sharp pruners, and an extra dose of patience and bravery.

Do you have a large specimen of Southern magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora) that wouldn’t miss a limb or two? The leaves make elegant holiday arrangements, especially when incorporated into o wreaths or garlands, perhaps even sprayed with gold or silver.

One plant that sports a bright burgundy fall color is Elliot’s blueberry (Vaccinium elliotii), which is currently glowing in the landscape. Locals call this native shrub and its relatives a “huckleberry”.  It is commonly seen along forest edges, and sun will promote its best fall color.

Winter brings many days of pleasant weather, perfect for exploring the Arboretum. Plan to walk our grounds over the holidays. We are open Wednesday through Sunday over the holidays except on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve, and New Year’s Day.

Copies of the brand-new floral design book “The Promise of Good Things” by Jim DelPrince, MSU Extension’s floriculture expert extraordinaire and his colleagues, are available in the Arboretum gift shop. Learn how to decorate your home in burnished hues from harvest to holidays, using hues of deep crimson, gold, and gingery-orange and bronze mums, along with pansies and kale, and jewel tones of royal purple, rose, and gold. This is an enticing and inspiring book full of ideas, designs, and examples you can use to “bring the promise of good things into your home and landscape.”

Stop by to see the winter gallery exhibit featuring abstract paintings of pitcher plants by Hattiesburg artist Martina Sciolino, which will be on display through the end of December.  Her show is inspired by her trips to the Crosby Arboretum bog. Martina is a member of the Hattiesburg Women’s Art Collective. You can see more at

Join the guided Forest Therapy walk on Sunday, December 12, from 1:00 to 3:30 p.m. with Nadine Phillips, INFTA-Certified Forest Therapy Guide in training, or another walk with her in January or February.  Forge Day is Saturday, January 29, 2022, and our Arbor Day Plant Sale is   To sign up for programs (pay the day of your class), call 601-799-2311. The Arboretum is open Wednesday through Sunday and located in Picayune, I-59 Exit 4, at 370 Ridge Road. Entrance gate closes at 4:00 p.m. Leashed pets are always welcome!