Decorate with Simple, Sustainable Holiday Containers

Now is the time to welcome the holiday season by decorating with holiday containers filled with seasonal arrangements of greenery and other natural material from your yard and landscape.



holiday containers decor decorationsWhat do you do with containers on your front porch or deck once you have yanked out those sorry-looking, frost-killed petunias? Now is the time to welcome the holiday season by decorating with holiday containers filled with seasonal arrangements of greenery and other natural material from your yard and landscape.

It’s easy to forage for material from your property on or around your home for your holiday containers. With pruners in hand, I venture into roadside edges and woods and gather lichen-covered branches, fall-colored foliage, pine cones, and seed heads. All of these make amazing accents for my arrangements. Be sure to get permission from the landowner if you are roaming around to avoid anyone chasing you off their property! I always ask neighbors permission to browse on their property—and I promise them a beautiful holiday arrangement in return.


Holiday Decor from Your Own Yard

As a landscape designer, my first consideration in planting any tree or shrub in my own yard is this: can I use cuttings from the plant in my outdoor seasonal containers? That’s why I’ve planted yellow, red, and orange twig dogwoods. I also love curly willow, hydrangeas, shrubs with variegated foliage, evergreen magnolias, winterberry, red-berried viburnums, and ruby rose hips. Holiday decorating with holiday containers is easy when the materials are close at hand.

Just use the existing potting medium in your containers. Stick in large branches to give the holiday container a background for the bursts of color and visual highlights. In most winter climates, the inserted branches in the potting soil will freeze in place to keep your holiday arrangement looking great.

holiday containers decor decorations

Simple Directions for Homemade Holiday Décor

Holiday containers are simple to make, and nothing brightens up a front porch or a deck like a homemade holiday arrangement. Here’s how to make your holiday container an appealing success:

  1. Keep the old soil in place and cut off old plants at the soil line. You now have an instant blank palette that can take you into the holidays and beyond. The trick is to create your masterpiece before the potting soil freezes and you can’t stick anything into the frozen pot. But don’t despair if you are presented with frozen clods. I have used a propane torch to defrost the soil enough to insert my branches!


  1. Place a preformed fresh wreath two inches wider than the pot diameter on top of the soil. An evergreen wreath will save you some steps in the process of creating an outdoor arrangement. With the addition of a pre-formed wreath, you have instant soil coverage and a beautiful base to start with, and the edges are covered. If you don’t use a wreath, you just need to drape more foliage around the base and edges.


  1. Insert your eye-catching upright “thriller” sticks (like Birch logs) in the center of the wreath. I love using yellow twig dogwood and pick up the yellow color with gold evergreens. Curly willow is also excellent.

holiday containers decor decorations

  1. Start inserting your largest leaves/branches first. Bracken’s Brown Beauty Magnolia is a favorite because of the lovely brown felted reverse side. But any large-leaved evergreen, such as Rhododendron or Aucuba will work. Insert your branches directly through the base wreath, angling the branches outwards.


  1. Add other contrasting foliage, like some variegated white pine and yellow tinged false cypress to pick up the yellow twigs or feathery false cypress. Stay away from Hemlock and Holly foliage as these will dry quickly and brown out. Chunky birch logs, winter berry sticks, rose hips, and large pods can be added last for color and interest. Over-sized plastic Christmas balls, jumbo pine cones, hydrangea heads, grass plumes, big colorful bows can all be added at this point.

If the soil is dry, water the holiday arrangement to keep everything hydrated. Watering also settles the branches into place. Your beautiful container will last 6-8 weeks—and even longer if you keep it in a shady area of your porch.

If some material starts to look tired, you can always replace with fresh branches to keep it going. Enjoy your holiday container—and enjoy the holiday season!

Claire Jones is a well-known garden writer and a long-time member of GardenComm: The International Association for Garden Communicators. Read more of her stories at 


Another great project for the whole family is making a Thanksgiving Gratitude Tree.


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