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28 Nov 2016 
You can use fresh greens anywhere tucked among your mantel decorations, bundled into a big crock on your front porch, as a swag below your windows or on indoor window sills, as little table accents or place holders for your holiday meal and, most obviously, in wreaths.(Photo: Delpixart, Getty Images/iStockphoto)

I use real greens to decorate at holiday time;not only because they bring all the wonderful fragrances of winter to my home, but because they are sustainable and keep me from missing my garden quite as much on these shorter, darker days.

READ:Father, son planted York's Christmas tree

You can use fresh greens anywhere tucked among your mantel decorations, bundled into a big crock on your front porch, as a swag below your windows or on indoor window sills, as little table accents or place holders for your holiday meal and, most obviously, in wreaths. It just depends how much time you have and how ambitious you are.

The key to using greens most successfully is to think beyond your typical winter-themed trees, such as pines and firs. However, they are an excellent start and will bring that lovely seasonal scent into your home. Look for a variety of textures and colors; the variety of shadings among their needles is beautiful, from dark green to grey and even bluish shades. Mix needle lengths and textures, from long and sweeping to short and stiff.

READ:Christmas Emergency Fund: Help us help the needy (editorial)

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Consider adding holly stems for contrast. Some holly leaves are variegated, which brightens the shades of green. The spiky, scalloped leaves of holly are reason enough to add them to your holiday displays but the berries are truly the icing on the cake for bringing a pop to your arrangement. They range from bright red to orange-hued or burgundy mix them up or choose a shade to accent your other holiday decorations.

READ:Mastering gardening: Become a Tree Tender

Other greens that can add interest with berries are in the cedar family. Their berries come in a range of blues and add a delightful surprise to the typical holiday color pallet. A bonus: that lovely distinctive cedar aroma.

But what will truly make your arrangements stand out from the crowd? Consider the contrast of adding large, shiny magnolia leaves or stems of daintier-leaved boxwood. Both will bring contrasting texture to the needles of pines and firs and the scalloped leaves of the hollies.

One more consideration for truly unique displays? Herbs! Adding rosemary, sage or lavender to displays is the trifecta of delight: color, texture and scent. You can even find (or grow) tiny Christmas-tree-shaped rosemary trees for a sustainable and interesting centerpiece.

READ:Master gardening: Forcing bulbs for the holidays

Finish off any and all types of green arrangements with your own particular flair;add shiny ornaments (you can lay them among the greens on your mantle or wire them to swags or wreaths), ribbons and bows or tiny Santas, elves, reindeer whatever your heart desires. Use colors to complement your decor or use an unexpected holiday color, like bright pink or blue, for a fun contrast to the traditional.

One of the best parts of this type of decorating is that you can tailor it to your budget. You can certainly purchase cuttings or pre-made arrangements with many of the above suggestions. But for me, part of the fun is seeing what I can find for free!

For starters, take cuttings of various evergreen trees around you property. If you buy a fresh tree, save the branches that are trimmed from the bottom. The tree farm where I buy my tree has a pile of free branches, and I can usually find an assortment of wonderful-smelling textures and hues.

READ:Master gardening: Choosing shrubs for fall and winter color, to benefit wildlife

Although it may be too late for this year, plan ahead and take cuttings of lavender. Or plantrosemary next spring and trim it into a conical shape as it grows. Dig it up before frost and plant it in a festive pot for your holiday table.

If you are more ambitious, look for native Pennsylvania evergreens to enhance your property and give you beautiful decorating options right outside your door for years to come.

Mary Prescott is a York County Master Gardener. Master Gardeners are volunteers for Penn State Cooperative Extension. For more information, contact the Master Gardener office at 717-840-7408.

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