Q I want to cut greens for decorations for the holidays. Can I cut now without hurting my plants?
A The weather is cooling and daylight is shorter, so the danger that your plants will produce tender new growth that can be damaged is much reduced.
You should consider your greens harvesting as a winter pruning. Prune your plants carefully for shape, then simply use the greens for your decorations. Traditional cuttings include holly branches and boxwood clippings. You can cut evergreen twigs from hemlocks, spruce trees and, of course, magnolias.
Hollies and boxwoods can recover from severe pruning, but you should never cut the needled evergreens back to a bare part of the branch. They will not regrow.
Hemlock branches are soft and pretty, but when they dry out, the needles drop. Use hemlock branches for arrangements with available water.
To start, assemble your tools: a sharp pruner and lopper and a big bucket (or two) with water. If you have two buckets, use a short one for small clippings and a deep one for bigger branches. Don't be afraid to plunge the cuttings deeply into the water. A well-hydrated branch stays fresh longer.
Hollies with berries are the best, but you can always add natural berries from nandinas or pyracanthas.
You may want to purchase green floral wire and blocks of Oasis, which are available at craft stores.
Dried bare branches of interesting plants can also be used. Consider the curled branches of Contorted filberts, the lacy or weeping branches of Japanese maples or even blueberry bush twigs. You can have a lot of fun finding possibilities outside your doors.
Email Pat Lea at email@example.com.