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December 31, 2011

Yard and Garden December 31, 2011

Q. I have seen many beautiful wreaths and centerpieces this year and want to try making my own. What plants can I grow to produce the greenery and berries for my own wreaths?

A. There are numerous plants growing in New Mexico landscapes and in our natural environment that are used in wreaths, or could be used in wreaths. Common landscape plants that are useful are photinia, pyracantha, and nandina for broadleaf foliage and berries. The large leaves of photinia could be used as green bows with red berries at the center. The pyracantha and nandina plants have smaller leaves that are useful as greenery and bright red or orange berries to add color to wreaths and centerpieces. Pines provide green needles and woody cones for use in wreaths. Spruce and fir also grow in New Mexico at higher elevations and in the north. They are also useful for their green needles. The spruce cones are also attractive. In southern New Mexico, true cedars (Cedrus species) grow well and produce needles similar to spruce needles. Arborvitae and juniper are also common in New Mexico. They provide greenery and cones. The juniper cones are bluish berry-like cones while the arborvitae cones are small woody cones. The greenery of juniper is quite prickly, while arborvitae greenery is softer and easier to use in making wreaths. Grape vines, Virginia creeper, and Boston ivy grow well in New Mexico. Their deciduous vines can be used to form the structure for wreaths and the foundation for many centerpieces. English ivy retains its leaves and can be used for centerpiece foundations, wreath structure, and greenery. Many people like to spray paint some elements of wreaths. You can do that to the pine cones, or apply glitter to them. However, in New Mexico we have many gray or silver-leafed plants that can add a unique texture and color to wreaths and centerpieces. Four-wing saltbush and rubber rabbitbrush are examples of interesting, gray-leafed native plants. The creosote bush of southern New Mexico is another potential candidate for unique and regionally appropriate decorations. These plants contain flammable resins, so avoid using candles or open flames near them. For designers skilled in the use of tongs and other protective devices, cholla could be used as centerpiece greenery. Their yellowish fruit would be a colorful addition to centerpieces with distinctively Southwestern appearance. However, these must be used with care because of the risk posed to the centerpiece designer and to guests by their spines. Cholla skeletons are safer and can be used to create a foundation for a centerpiece with any of the other material listed above, or alone to create a unique sculpture that adds a distinctive Southwestern flare to decorations. Also consider dried grass flower spikes, dried stems from other plants, and the numerous other plants that are readily available in our home landscapes and our natural landscape. Do not forget that you can use chiles (individually, in clusters, or in ristras), onion and garlic braids. These are easily grown in New Mexico gardens and very useful in wreaths and centerpieces. Chile pods come in many sizes and shapes and will make a distinctively New Mexico decoration.

For more gardening information, visit the NMSU Extension publications Web site at http://aces.nmsu.edu/pubs/_h, or to read past articles of Yard and Garden go to http://aces.nmsu.edu/pubs/periodicals.html

Send your gardening questions to:

Yard and Garden, Attn: Dr. Curtis Smith
NMSU Agricultural Science Center
1036 Miller Rd. SW, Los Lunas, NM 87031

Curtis W. Smith, Ph.D., is an Extension Horticulture Specialist emeritus with New Mexico State University's Cooperative Extension Service. NMSU and the U.S. Department of Agriculture cooperating.