Many gardeners like to “clean up” their gardens for winter, or “put their gardens to bed.”
But wait…don’t throw all that plant material out! Not only can you cut down on garden waste by using that material for decorative purposes, you can save money! Just think – you won’t have to go out and buy so much to fill your decorative outside urns or planters, and you may even have some lovely plants to use for indoor arrangements.
Both Pee Gee-type hydrangeas (Hydrangea paniculata ‘Grandiflora’), and the Annabelle-type (Hydrangea arborescens ‘Annabelle’) dry well. The blooms of Hydrangea paniculata change colour as they age and so it is possible to have beautiful arrangements in various hues of cream, pink, purple, and red conical-shaped blooms. Hydrangea arborescens do not change colour and so look nice in natural arrangements. However, once dried they can be spray-painted any colour. Dried hydrangeas work well in both indoor and outdoor arrangements.
Other filler for use in outdoor containers include plants with interesting seed heads – astilbe, echinacea, various ornamental grasses, allium (especially Allium christophii with its giant star shape), poppy seed heads, pinecones, and rose hips. Use a bit of hairspray to help keep the seed heads intact. Some seed heads also look attractive spray-painted.
Cut your own boughs. Various evergreens can be used – conifers such as pine, spruce, fir, and cedar, as well as broad-leaf evergreens such as holly (including the berries if you have female plants) and boxwood. Consider using various deciduous branches. In addition to birch, there is red or yellow twig dogwood, corkscrew hazel, curly willow, and lengths of grapevine.
When pruning shrubs and perennials throughout the year think about what you could use in your winter containers. The above suggestions are just a start – your garden plants will have other indoor/outdoor decorative potential. Enjoy your garden year round!
Durham Master Gardener