Aromatic Evergreens for Holiday Decorations

Abies koreana. Photo by Erica Glasener.Holiday wreaths and decorations made from fresh cut evergreens are an ancient tradition that is still popular today. What may surprise some people, though, is the variety of conifers that you can grow and harvest from your own garden to create fragrant wreaths, swags and centerpieces. Depending on what region of the country you live in, there may be aromatic conifers (cone-bearing trees) that are native to your landscape

Among the conifers with fragrant foliage, some have needle-like leaves (firs, pines and spruces) while others have scale-like leaves (arborvitae, hemlock, Hinoki cypress and incense cedar). The many different types include those with variegated foliage, decorative cones and colorful new growth. 

While it’s true that the best time to prune certain conifers (yews and hemlocks) is in early spring just before new growth appears, you can selectively cut branches for holiday decorations without harming the plant. Cedars, firs and spruce can be trimmed at any time to control their size. Just prune back to a visible bud.

If you’re lucky, you inherited some existing conifers when you moved into your current home, but if not, hire a landscaper to incorporate a few in your garden. Not only will you have a constant source for decorations, but your garden will be colorful during every season. And, if you only garden in pots, dwarf conifers, including various cultivars of Hinoki cypress like Nana Gracilis (Chamaecyparis obtusa), will provide you with a few fresh cut greens.   

Conifers with Aromatic Foliage

Remember most conifers require full sun and well-drained soil to thrive. Check with your local Cooperative Extension Service or the American Conifer Society for more information. 

American arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis): Many selections, doesn’t mind being pruned. Zones 2-7. 

Balsam fir (Abies balsamea): Popular for Christmas trees, very fragrant foliage, Zones 3-5.

California incense cedar (Calocedrus decurrens): Dark green sprays of foliage, interesting cones and striking bark that is a rich brown color. Zones 5-8.

Canadian hemlock (Tsuga canadensis): Deep green needles with silver on undersides, tiny cones make great decorations too. Zones 3-7.

Fraser fir (Abies fraseri): Very similar to balsam fir but grows in warmer climates too. Zones 4-7.

Hinoki cypress (Chamaecyparis obtusa): Many cultivars, including dwarf and variegated selections. Zones 4-8. 

Korean fir (Abies koreana): The selection Hortsmann’s Silberlocke has foliage with bright silver on the lower surface. Zones 4-7. 

Tips for Making Decorations with Fresh Cut Greens

  • Take cuttings early in the morning.

  • Mix in colorful berries and other broadleaf evergreen foliage for variety, including American hollies (Ilex opaca) and heavenly bamboo (Nandina domestica). 

  • Use a frame with moist sphagnum moss to keep evergreens fresh for a longer period.
  • If you are wiring greens onto a metal frame, use a spray bottle to mist with water periodically to keep them from drying out too quickly.
  • Add aromatic citrus fruits, osage oranges (Maclura pomifera) or hardy oranges (Poncirus trifoliata) for something different. 

Erica Glasener writes for

Updated June 7, 2018.

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