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How to turn evergreens into a Christmas centerpiece

Christmas centerpieces can be made with trimmings from backyard evergreens. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor1 / 5
Begin at the lower edge of the foam block and insert branches to establish the length and shape of the centerpiece. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor2 / 5
Add shorter branches, continuing upward in stair-step fashion. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor3 / 5
Fill the top surface with short evergreen sprigs and add contrasting evergreen types until the foam block is covered. The centerpiece is then ready to decorate. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor4 / 5
Don Kinzler, Growing Together gardening columnist for The Forum Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor5 / 5

Did you hear about the gardener who was so cheap, instead of buying his date flowers, he bought her seeds? Using the evergreens in our home landscape for centerpieces isn't just about getting Christmas decorations on the cheap; it's a fun art to learn.

Common backyard evergreens include pine, spruce, arborvitae, yew and juniper. Combinations of greens make the most interesting designs. Light pruning in December causes no injury to the plants, and the most useful parts are the outer 6- to 12-inch tip segments. Evergreen boughs can also be purchased from garden centers and Christmas tree lots.

Here's what you'll need:

  • A block of wettable, water-absorbing floral foam available at craft stores and florists
  • Shallow bowl or low-sided container
  • Candle, if desired
  • Pruning shears
  • Christmas decorations such as ornaments, pine cones, candy canes and ribbon
  • Several types of evergreens

Step-by-step:

  1. Cut the foam block to fit the container, so the block extends about two inches above the container's rim.
  2. Thoroughly soak the foam in water until it's completely saturated.
  3. Cover the workspace with newspaper or plastic to catch needles and sap.
  4. Place the water-soaked foam into the container. Corners of the square foam can be shaved with a knife to fit round containers. The weight of the block plus evergreens will usually hold it solidly within the container.
  5. If you've chosen a taper-type candle insert it into the foam now, about an inch.
  6. Decide the desired shape of the centerpiece, whether round or oblong.
  7. Determine the desired finished size. Round centerpieces are commonly 8 to 12 inches in diameter. Oblong table centerpieces might be 12 to 24 inches long and 8 to 12 inches wide.
  8. Use a pruning shears to cut evergreen branches to the necessary lengths. A common mistake is hesitating to cut branches into useable segments. Insert four evergreen branches horizontally into the lower sides of the foam block just above the container's rim, radiating out in four directions to establish the centerpiece's length and width. These four branches will be the lowest and longest.
  9. If the arrangement is circular, the lowest branches will be equal length. If oblong shaped, the end branches will be longer and the side branches shorter.
  10. Strip needles from the base of each branch before inserting one to two inches into the foam.
  11. After installing the bottom longest branches, add increasingly shorter branches to the side of the foam in stair-step layers as you reach the foam's top surface.
  12. Continue inserting evergreens into the foam's top surface, moving toward the center. Angle the small pieces increasingly vertical. The small branchlets at the top center will be only three or four inches long.
  13. If you've used mostly one type of evergreen so far, tuck a few sprigs of an evergreen with contrasting color, needle length or texture between the others.
  14. The foam should now be concealed, and all evergreens should appear to radiate out from the center of the arrangement. Branches can be repositioned slightly, but if done too aggressively the foam might break apart
  15. The most common mistakes are not cutting the branches into smaller, useable pieces, and not visually radiating everything from the center focal point.
  16. When you're pleased with the appearance of the evergreens, it's time to add decorations, which give a centerpiece its charm. To maximize the impact, every centerpiece should have a focal point, which is the central, eye-catching feature. Instead of polka-dotting ornaments around the arrangement, group them toward the center. Use fewer decorations at the extremities.
  17. Add water to the container. Centerpieces made now will stay fresh until New Year's Day if water is supplied as needed.

Don Kinzler, a lifelong gardener, worked as an NDSU Extension horticulturist and owned Kinzler's Greenhouse in Fargo. Readers can reach him at forumgrowingtogether@hotmail.com.

He also blogs at growingtogether.areavoices.com.

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