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Jennifer Guion, owner of the Luna Vinca floral shop in Minneapolis, recommends limiting the type of elements you add.
“Use five elements at the most,” she said. “Things have a bigger impact if they have some repetition to them.”
Remember to add some height to your arrangement, whether through natural or manmade items. A good rule of thumb, said Otto, is to use something that’s about twice as tall as the container.
When he created seasonal containers for the arboretum, Otto added a spike of cherry-red Cardinal Dogwood branches (a University of Minnesota introduction). He also surrounded the base of the black-glazed pots with drooping white pine limbs and small branches of oak leaves, which he rescued from a downed tree that was headed for the chipper. “The leaves of oak trees will stay on most of the winter,” he said.
Top off your arrangement with a focal point. If you want your container to look festive from Thanksgiving through the new year, make sure your focal point is one that can easily be changed.
For example, Otto nestled bright orange and white gourds into a container of evergreens and oak leaves for a Thanksgiving look. For the holidays, he’ll remove the leaves, wind red ribbon through the branches and add berries and glittered pine cones. Once the holidays are over, he’ll remove the red ribbon and glittery additions.
(If your arrangement is too frozen to work with, Pfarr suggests pouring a pail of boiling water into the container, waiting a few hours, then adding new elements.)
For his focal points, Pfarr progresses from a grapevine ball surrounded by pine cones, to oversized Christmas, to a faux bird’s nest accented with red dogwood twigs and artificial berries.
No matter how showy or restrained your outdoor arrangement ends up, Winter encourages you to give dressing up traditional spruce tops a try. “You’re making your home welcoming and it’s a nice way to do it,” he said.
Gail Brown Hudson is a Minneapolis freelance writer, working on a master’s degree in horticulture at the University of Minnesota.