DIY Gardening Home Decor

Making Holiday Centerpieces From Natural Materials

Making Holiday Centerpieces From Natural Materials

by Carolyn Hasenfratz

I enjoy walking around outside at any time of year. It takes more motivation to go outdoors in cold weather but I’m always glad at such times that I made the effort. A landscape that is mostly dry and brown may seem unappealing at first, but if you look closely at plants and their remains in winter you will see more textures, shapes and colors than you may have thought possible.

One way to enrich the way you see the winter landscape is to collect natural materials and use them to make centerpieces for your Holiday celebrations, or any occasion. I had the opportunity recently to join other volunteers at the Litzinger Road Ecology Center in making centerpieces for the annual Holiday party. We were provided with a variety of recycled and donated containers along with embellishments such as ribbon and floral accents. Our goal was to create arrangements of mostly natural materials from the prairie at Litzinger Road Ecology Center to make attractive centerpieces.

collecting natural materials from the prairie

After taking a quick look at the available floral supplies, we spread out around the property to look for plant materials that we wanted to use. We collected reeds, grasses, seed heads, dried flowers, branches, feathers, vines, berries, pods, snake-skin, pine cones, nuts, bark, evergreen branches and more. A few plants were still green. Others provided many variations on dried plant colors – red-brown, silvery grey, dark brown, straw yellow hues and more. Often when we are working in the field we are mindful of the identification of plants. This time we were free to concentrate mainly on what the plant materials look like and what would make attractive combinations. Tall or short, delicate or bold, feathery or solid, rough or smooth – how can one enhance the other?

It’s enjoyable to go into a craft store and buy materials that fit a preconceived idea of what you want to make – it’s also a fun creative challenge to see what you can make out of the limited materials on hand with little to no pre-planning. I decided to be a little irreverent with my arrangement and use some green invasive creeping euonymus (Euonymus fortunei) which is a plant that may not quite be as hated as invasive honeysuckle here at LREC but could be a close second! To keep the vine green until the time of the party, I placed the cut ends of the vines into small bottles of water in the bottom of the glass container I was using. This also helped provide structural support since we did not have any florist foam in our supply stash to help hold tall stems erect.

Making a holiday arrangement with invasive euonymus vines

I added a few small pine cones among the green to break up the color a little bit, then I made a small donut shape of grasses and placed it in the vase on its side to provide extra structural support at the top. Then I added some branches with red berries, a few pine needles and some tall thin strips of wood with plastic crystals on them. A few red berries fell into the vase and down into the greenery so I added a few more here and there to make it look like I put them there on purpose.

finished arrangements made from natural materials and a few embellishments

Finished arrangements made by other volunteers

Is there anything in your backyard that would look good in a Holiday arrangement? Explore with fresh eyes and you might find a new way to appreciate your garden in what we normally think of as the off-season. I recommend you take care to identify your finds if you have children or pets in the house who might eat things that they shouldn’t. Some common garden plants (and houseplants) are toxic. Have fun and see where your creativity takes you!

Gardening Sustainability

Tips for Removing Invasive Honeysuckle

Tips for Removing Invasive Honeysuckle

by Carolyn Hasenfratz

Honeysuckle is one of the last plants to drop leaves in the fall, and one of the first plants to get leaves in the spring. This makes it quite pretty to look at sometimes. A recent photo from Emmenegger Nature Park shows the light green leaves on honeysuckle growing in the understory of a forest in late November.

Honeysuckle at Emmanegger Nature Park

Unfortunately this characteristic also gives honeysuckle an advantage over other plants. Since many species of honeysuckle are not native and reseed readily, Honeysuckle can be a danger to native plants and plant diversity. Many organizations that are involved with environmental stewardship sponsor volunteer Honeysuckle removal days. I spent a couple of days volunteering recently to remove invasive Honeysuckle from Emmenegger Nature Park in Kirkwood and Litzinger Road Ecology Center in Ladue. If you remove invasive Honeysuckle from your own property you can help stop the spread to other areas. Birds really love to eat the berries and spread the seeds around to places where Honeysuckle is not wanted.

How to Identify Honeysuckle
If you need help with identification, it is very useful to participate in one or two group cleanups so that experts can show you what to look for. After an hour or two of practice you’ll be spotting it everywhere with little effort! Fall is an ideal time for removal because the leaves, being one of the last to persist in the forest, make identification easier.

Look for:
Opposite leaves
Red berries in the fall
Leaves can be green, yellowish, or red/brown depending on the time of year. You may even see it with different colored leaves on the same property on the same day.
Stems are hollow once it gets large enough – snip off a piece to check
Once stems get large enough the bark appears very groovy

Honeysuckle leaves in brown fall color

If you’re not sure whether your honeysuckle is a undesirable invasive type, you can get help with identification at Missouri Botanical Garden.

How to Remove Honeysuckle
If the plant is small enough, you may be able to just pull it out. Make sure to get the center root clump around the stem or it may grow back. It’s not necessary to get every little piece of root out.
If you can remove the root material from the premises after it’s pulled, do so. If that is not possible hang the plant in a tree off the ground so the roots dry out and die. If you leave the plant on the ground, it may regrow from the roots.
If the plant is too big to pull, dig it out if you can without damaging other plants or causing excessive disturbance of the soil.
If digging is not practical, saw the trunk off as close to the ground as you can. Treat the stub with a 20% solution of glyphosate herbicide. Glyphosate is the active ingredient in Roundup. You can apply it with a bottle that features a dauber attachment, such as a shoe polish bottle or a bingo marker. Or you can spray the glyphosate on the trunk stub. Clearly label bottles, store safely and observe all precautions. You can add dye to the solution to help you keep track of where you have already applied herbicide.
If you can’t remove all the branches from the property, cut them up into smaller pieces so that they lie flat on the ground. Contact with the ground will help the branches decompose faster.
Useful tools to have on hand are a small shovel, a pruning saw, hand pruners and loppers.

You can save yourself a lot of work over time by patrolling your property regularly and removing the Honeysuckle plants while they are still small enough to pull out easily. Once the bushes get to full size, they can still be removed but the job is a lot more labor intensive.

Honeysuckle next to a bottle of herbicide in a shoe polish bottle

Safety precautions
Wear eye protection, gloves, long sleeves and long pants. You need to protect yourself from scratches, pokes in the eye and chemicals.
Wear work boots or hiking boots with good ankle support – in the woods it’s easy to step in a hole or slip on an uneven surface.
Wear safety orange in case you are in or near a hunting area without realizing it.
Mark your tools with orange tape or paint, because they are easy to lose among the fall leaves on the ground.

After the Honeysuckle is gone, your woods might look a little bare. Don’t worry, there are native plants that can fill the gap and make a healthy as well as lovely contribution to the ecology of your property. Consider planting some of these species instead of Honeysuckle: Some recommended alternatives to bush honeysuckle and other exotic shrubs.

Here is some more information about Honeysuckle:
Bush Honeysuckle
Honeysuckles: For Better or For Worse – There are some species of Honeysuckle that are nice to have – read about them here.