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Larry Sagers
Oregon Grape grows well in Utah and makes an acceptable holly substitute for Christmas decorations.

With the Christmas season upon us, it is time to get the decorations hung and the festivities under way.

Evergreen plants are one of the oldest decorations associated with this holiday when it was moved to coincide with the winter solstice.

I've spent some time visiting various growers in the Pacific Northwest where many of our fresh-cut Christmas trees, our evergreens for door wreaths and fresh-cut holly grows.

While we usually see these displayed in ready-made door hangings or floral bouquets, they do not start out that way.

It was interesting to see these decorations treated more like an agricultural crop than a retail item. Rows and rows of carefully groomed and tended Christmas trees are precisely grown as carefully as any vegetable, and holly farms are full of trees as meticulously trimmed as any orchard.

Other parts of the crops are collected in nature. In the lush forests, a plethora of native plants that flourish are the raw materials for our holiday decorations.

We might not think of ornamental Christmas greens as a crop, but they are harvested, graded and shipped to be processed into the decorations we enjoy.

This starts early in the fall at the higher elevations, before the snow makes it too difficult to get the materials.

From these forests come boughs of all kinds — fir, pine spruce and cedar.

These trees provides that great fragrance that we all love to have permeate our homes.

Additional decorative foliage comes from the abundant blue berries of the junipers and cedars. Adding their own special touch are the cones of the various evergreens that are gathered from what we commonly call pine trees.

While we may not have the same trees and other plants in our landscapes, we are not without the raw materials we need for holiday decorations.

Constructing your own decorations, using your ornamentals, is a fun way to get started.

If you want to create your own decorations, follow these steps. The process is much easier and faster if you have the right forms and machines to do the crimping but it is still done the same way if you want to do it by hand.

The process starts with laying the base. The favorite foliage choices are noble, grand, silver and white firs with upright needles that create an attractive display and that last well without dropping prematurely.

Cedar foliage is flatter but still makes and attractive design.

The above listed fir boughs are not as easy to acquire here in Utah. Only the white fir is grown here and usually at high elevations. You can purchase the others, or you can find a substitute. Spruce boughs are easy to find and attractive but the needless don't last as well as some other types.

Pine boughs will also work well. Austrian and Scotch pines are readily available, but many mugho pines have tight boughs and needles with an excellent crop of cones already attached.

Buy a wire wreath form at a craft store or florist, or make your own from a heavy piece of wire. At the bottom of the form, start laying the branches in opposite directions, going back toward the top of the form. With commercial forms, crimp the wires to fasten the boughs or wire them securely to your wire ring.

If a wreath seems like a little too much work, consider making a swag.

Arrange the evergreen branches in in a layered "handful," with the cut end facing the same way. A swag is easier to make because you do not need a frame or support for the boughs.

Once you have the wreath or swag formed, then you can start decorating.

Try your skill as a designer by laying out the different kinds of foliage to make an attractive decoration.

Clusters of juniper berries, sprigs of holly, various cones and berries of other plants add a colorful touch to the decorations.

You can wire these in or hot glue them to the boughs you used to create the base.

Adding various pine cones or other decorations will add color. Don't forget to top it off with a bright Christmas bow.

Remember, these branches are not in water, so the cooler the temperature and the higher the humidity, the longer they last. Wreaths on hot, south-facing doors are short lived, while those in a cooler location will remain festive for a much longer time.

Prune your plants to get your raw materials, have some fun and decorate your home. It's a way to enjoy your garden a little longer indoors while it is cold and snowy outdoors.

Garden tips and events

Red Butte Garden's Winter Solstice celebration is set for Dec. 18, 11 a.m.-3 p.m.

Visit the Children's Garden to celebrate the return of the light. Wander through the garden, warm your hands at the fire barrels, create wonderful winter candles, and enjoy hot drinks! No registration required. Regular garden admission applies.

Wasatch Community Gardens has a library covering many garden subjects. To view the titles available, go to wasatchgardens.org

Other local libraries also have many garden books available on specialized subjects.

Larry A. Sagers is a horticulture specialist for the Utah State University Extension Service at Thanksgiving Point.