How To Create A Simple And Stunning Holiday Greens Display In Your Outdoor Planters

When the winter holiday season approaches, many of us get into the festive spirit by decorating the exterior of our home in some way. If inflatable elves, robotic reindeer, or flashing lights aren't quite your style, consider a container of fresh evergreens for your entryway. You can create a low-cost, naturally fragrant holiday display using simple items like cut evergreen boughs and sand in your outdoor planters or window boxes. 

If you have evergreens in your yard, you can cut some branches to use in your container display. (Cut sprays of even well-cared-for holly, ivy, and mistletoe need water to stay fresh, so these aren't recommended for outdoor displays). Or, consider purchasing greenery from garden shops and online. You can also combine fresh branches with other natural materials (like pine cones, berries, dried flowers, or red dogwood branches) or craft materials such as silk flowers, branches with berries, ribbons, ornaments, or plastic birds. These displays can last all winter until you're ready for the spring, and you can change out various objects as the season progresses.

Even if you aren't experienced in designing containers or floral arranging, don't worry. Creating an evergreen display is easy — even a beginner can do it. The tools and materials you need include a container (it can be one you used previously for summer annuals if you like), some sand (florist or play sand, available at most garden shops), some bypass pruners for trimming, gardening gloves, and evergreen boughs and branches.

Handling evergreens while arranging

Evergreens are beautiful and fragrant but also tricky to handle. Conifer needles are sharp and cause small scrapes or cuts to your hands, so be sure to wear protective gloves. Gloves will also protect your hands from sticky sap or resin that can be present on some evergreen boughs or cones. Also, when cutting and trimming fresh boughs or branches, make sure you're using sharp tools — a bypass pruner is probably the best gardening tool for this job.

If you're cutting boughs directly from trees or shrubs to use, place them stem-side-down in a bucket with a bit of water at the bottom. This will help them absorb some water before you place them in your container. Prepare your container by removing the top layer of soil and replacing it with a 2 to 3-inch layer of sand. The sand gives you some flexibility with placing your greens and other materials, and unlike potting soil, it won't freeze solid, which can cause your greens to get stuck in an awkward position if they get moved by the wind or weather.

Trim the greenery off the bottom 2 to 3 inches of your branches so they will stick firmly in the sand. You can add these smaller pieces to the display or a wreath if you like. After you place your greenery in the sand, water the surface lightly, and water a bit more every few days if there's no rain or snow.

Designing your evergreen display

Be as intricate or as simple as you want with your design. If an armful of blue spruce boughs placed in a whiskey barrel looks good to you, there's your display! But if you want to get more creative, you can mix different colors and textures by using different evergreens, such as spruce, pine, fir, cedar, or balsam. You can also try using color schemes beyond the traditional red, green, and white. Winterberry holly (Ilex verticillata) has bright red berries and will stay intact outside in your container.

Place taller, straighter branches at the back of your planter or window box, and place draping or curving branches in front to hang over the edges. Shorter branches can go in the middle area to fill in empty space; large pine cones can work here, too. If you want to add ribbons, ornaments, or other decorative pieces, add them after the branches have been placed so you don't disturb the sand layer. You can always add a bit more sand when you're finished to top it off.

Small battery or solar-powered lights may be added to your display to add some charm and illumination as night falls. Ornaments with shiny metallic or glittery surfaces will reflect light nicely, adding a touch of magic. Be sure to avoid getting water on any lighting devices when you add water to your display to keep the greenery ends hydrated. With occasional watering, your display should stay green until spring.