When it comes to holiday decorating, spruce tips have become as common as candy canes, red ribbons and poinsettias. If you like the classic look, you may want to opt for spruce tips for your window boxes, containers, mantel or tabletop. But if you're ready to branch out, consider harvesting evergreens from your own back yard. Winter is a good time to prune evergreens. And if you prune now, you can use the trimmings for decorations that don't cost a dime. Using your own greens may also make you greener.

Although they look like miniature Christmas trees, spruce tips come from white or black spruce, many of which grow in northern Minnesota wetlands. While reputable dealers harvest only side branches that don't interfere with the tree's continued growth, there have been complaints that main branches have been cut and sold. Cutting a main branch would mean harvesting -- or killing -- the whole tree.

You can steer clear of any controversy by taking cuttings from any of these common evergreens you are growing:

Arborvitae or cedar: These flat, lacy branches add a deep green color to any arrangement. Many of them also have tiny brown cones that add texture and interest. These long-lasting greens look great when paired with rough-textured juniper or spiky spruce.

Juniper: Thick, narrow juniper branches offer a distinctive shape, bold texture and blue berries that look frost-nipped. Sometimes these tough plants change color in the fall, taking on a beautiful bronze, reddish or golden color.

Pine: Whether the short needles of mugo or Scotch pine or the longer needles of white pine, these branches can last for several weeks indoors. When you cut, be sure to choose smaller side branches that won't interfere with the growth of the tree.

Yew or taxus: Although these soft, dark green needles last a long time indoors, the branches are usually long and narrow, making them harder to use. Consider them as an accent to your arrangements. Remove any red berries before you bring the branches indoors. They are poisonous.

Blue spruce: Small spruce branches add color and spiky texture to indoor arrangements, but spruce are best used as accents because they tend to drop their needles. Cut only smaller side branches, avoid the growing tip, unless you are shaping the entire plant.

Hemlock: While the tiny, soft needles of hemlock look attractive, they're not a good choice for cut-evergreen arrangements because they drop their needles quickly.

As long as you're out in your yard with your pruners, nip a few branches from your red twig dogwood or crabapples for color.

Mary Hockenberry Meyer is a professor and extension horticulturist with the University of Minnesota.