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Home & Garden: Decorating with evergreens beautifies your landscape

Outdoor planters are a striking way of decorating for the holidays. Mary Jane Breitling/The Pioneer

Now that freezing temperatures have killed everything in our outdoor containers, it is time to fill them with holiday greenery. Two sizes of tree tops are available at many places around town. I attended a demonstration at a Fargo nursery where the designer filled a large and tall container. She used the two sizes of tree tops, red and yellow dogwood branches, dried magnolia leaves, artificial red berries and more. The result was beautiful, but the total cost would have been well over $100.

Most of us have more modest containers, and by using some cuttings from our own yards it is easy to cut the cost. If you have nothing in your own yard to prune, perhaps a neighbor would allow you to collect some cuttings from his yard. A walk in the woods or even some ditches could provide more material. I cut the branches from my Colorado blue spruce that lie on the ground, as they are subject to fungal diseases from the soil. Purchase tree tops, evergreen bundles and other elements to fill out your pots. You are only limited by your imagination, although you can always copy something you have seen. Just try to keep in mind basic principals of design.

Begin with the pot, which may be plastic, cement, terracotta, ceramic or even a hanging basket. You may need to insert a plastic pot in a cement or terracotta container to prevent them from cracking. Add some weight to baskets or other lightweight containers that might blow over in the wind. Decide how the pot will be viewed. Place the tallest elements in the center of a pot that will be viewed from all sides and in the rear of those seen against a house.

Use a design style that goes with your house; grand for a large house or more whimsical for a cottage. Consider a traditional red and green theme, a country style with plaids and Santas or glitzy with gold, silver and jewel tones.

Fill the pot with moist potting soil to make a firm base to insert greens. Once the design is complete, water the soil well so that everything freezes in place. Use a selection of three to five different types of greens to make a base. Tree tops are great, but add some pine, spruce, arborvitae, cedar, yew, or juniper branches to fill the pot tightly. Use some upright branches and some that drape over the edge. Pick greens with varied colors and shapes.

Now that you have the base, add height and drama with red, yellow or green dogwood branches or some curly willow. Some shrub roses have red or burgundy colored branches, but watch for thorns. White birch branches and bleached or painted branches are more options. Remember that the top of the design should be 1 ½ to 2 times the height of the pot.

Adding decorative items is the fun part and will make your design unique. The choice is endless. Some natural elements include cones, rosehips, dry hydrangea flowers, Eucalyptus, lotus pods, and dried yarrow. Perhaps some baby's-breath from the ditches might be a choice. Silk flowers, artificial berries and fruit, plus weather resistant ornaments provide color. Use ribbons and bows for a festive flair.

As you are creating your masterpiece, occasionally step back and look at the pot to see if everything is in balance. Stop whenever you feel it is just right, but try to have four or five kinds of greens and three to five additional items.

If you remove the more ornamental decorations after the holidays, the containers will remain attractive all winter. And, you don't have to fertilize or water them.