The tough economic times of the past year have proven that not even things that are nailed down or rooted in the ground are immune from theft. Three years ago when I moved to my small North Carolina town, I thought I was leaving behind many of the problems associated with larger cities. Unfortunately, even here, theft is still a problem.
This spring I lost a rechargeable lawn mower and, recently, a backpack leaf blower. But the biggest surprise came when my wife called to share the latest small-town chatter. Everyone is abuzz with the latest crime spree taking area neighborhoods by storm.
Apparently someone is breaking off and stealing boxwood branches from people's yards, allegedly for use in making Christmas wreaths. I find this thoughtless act nearly unforgivable. I can live with having some of my own lawn equipment stolen. But the flagrant act of breaking boxwood branches is very hard on the plants. It invites pests and diseases, disfigures the plants and, in extreme cases, can even kill them. At the very least, a good sharp pair of pruners should be used for cleanly removing branches from the main plant.
So, for our resident "Holiday Horticulturist" or anyone else who wants to know about other plants that are commonly used to adorn our homes during the holidays, I offer the following list of classic greenery. It's just as beautiful and even more available:
Magnolia: From the smaller varieties such as "Little Gem" to the towering magnolia grandiflora, these are fabulous evergreen trees best known for their big, glossy, deep-green foliage and large, fragrant spring flowers. As a decorative accent, they are so versatile; there's no limit to what can be done with their tough but attractive leaves.
They are easy to grow, adaptable to sun and shade and, thankfully, there are now varieties for any size spot.
Holly: There are many varieties to choose from and plenty that are sure to grow in your area. However, for the best berry exhibit, be sure to have both male and female plants if you choose to grow them for their colorful display.
Hollies are such a popular shrub for use in holiday decorating. You are likely familiar with the term "bough of holly." But for those who don't know, a bough refers to a branch of a tree, especially a main branch. So you can imagine how beautiful a bough of holly looks with its glossy, dark-green foliage and contrasting red or yellow berries.
Conifers: The classic evergreens: Think Douglas, Fraser and balsam. These trees say Christmas with their characteristic shape and fragrance. Douglas firs are especially nice because they hold their needles so long. Hemlocks and other conifers with cones attached are also perfect for Christmas adornment. Conifers are easy to grow in cooler climates, but will suffer in areas warmer than zone six (www.usna.usda.gov/Hardzone/ushzmap.html).
Viburnum: Porcelainlike berries are so beautiful; it's hard to believe they're real. Consider yourself lucky if you find enough to bring inside for the holidays. Not only are they beautiful, but birds love them, too.
Viburnums are another easy-to-grow plant, and about 30 varieties are common around the United States and Canada. They're also one of the most versatile four-season plants, boasting fragrant spring blooms, wonderful fall foliage and brightly colored berries.
Nandina: A classic plant for holiday decor, the finely textured foliage ranges from light green to purple to bright red. Berries can range from white to yellow to red. The foliage-berry combinations are the perfect complement to the season. Nandina are evergreen to semi-evergreen and hardy to single-digit temperatures. These are low-maintenance plants that are great to have in your garden year-round.
If your yard or garden is currently lacking any of the above suggestions, go ahead and plant them by spring for a fantastic holiday season display next December. Suggestions like those above look beautiful right where they're planted or as cuttings on a wreath or in a vase. There are many options. But if you do add any of these plants to your holiday decor, just make sure to use your pruners.
Joe Lamp'l, host of "GardenSMART" on PBS, is a Master Gardener and author. For more information, visit www.joegardener.com.