Winter foraging can yield a beautiful array of materials perfect for creating unique, sustainable, and cost-effective seasonal decor, dried bouquets and wreaths for market.
This guide written by flower farming contributor, Lindsey Hofman of 605 Flowers, will walk you through some common winter foraging materials and how you can use them to create value added products for your flower farm.
What are some common winter foraging materials?
Pine cones are generally an easy forage material. A short walk around your neighborhood or local parks and you can simply gather many of all shapes and sizes. It is best to forage on a dry day. Cones usually close up with excessive moisture, so it takes extra steps to achieve an open cone that can easily be avoided. Cones can be considered a nuisance to some property owners, so the opportunity to forage as many as you can gather will likely be welcomed! They can be used to cover an entire wreath form or used as accents for table top arrangements, wreaths or potted arrangements.
Winterberry and Holly are two main red berries associated with winter arrangements. While they are both considered similar to each other, the winterberry loses its leaves and leaves behind eye popping bright red berries. But don’t forget about Juniper berries or eastern Cedar species either. They come in a shade of blue and add incredible texture to any arrangement.
Leaves may be harder to come by in some climates come winter. That is why I specifically forage in other seasons and I usually end up with dried leaves as accents. Popular leaf additions many like to add to their arrangements are magnolia & various species of eucalyptus. But if you happen to live in a milder climate, you may have a longer list of leaves available to add. Take time to look around you and find what is available to fill in or add. I think the more local your arrangements can be, the more unique and better it is!
Red dogwood twigs/branches are a great addition to an arrangement. They go dormant in the winter and do require some pruning prior to spring. Take full advantage of the landscape around you and gather those bright red twigs to add pops of linear texture and color to your creations.
Grapevines or Willow branches are a great alternative to creating wreath forms. If you are lucky enough to live near a water feature that is full of willows, you can follow these guidelines here on how to successfully harvest willow branches! A Guide for Harvesting, Storing, and Planting Dormant Willow Cuttings| Colorado Riparian Association. If you or someone you know grows grapes, they go dormant in the winter and can be pruned during the winter months! Just give them time to come indoors and warm up prior to trying to sculpt them into a shape.
I also like to use fallen/twisted branches for accents or bases. Very large ones are better for your outdoor landscape but smaller ones can be used to create genuinely unique elements. They add so much character to an ordinary arrangement. These branches are usually very dry and can be foraged anytime, stored or displayed throughout the seasons.
Aspen or Birch bark is very popular in winter arrangements. However, you must not forage directly from a live tree. It’s possible, but highly not recommended. Doing so can damage the tree and could even cause it to die. It is best to forage bark from a tree that has fallen. Or instead of taking just the bark from a fallen tree, take the opportunity to use branches and logs as accent pieces! You can’t go wrong with Birch or Aspen accents.
Moss is an incredibly popular décor element for covering the bases of all kinds of floral arrangements. It is not mass produced and is found only in the right environment. It is very important to forage just enough for your arrangement as the time it takes to reproduce is still out for debate. Some scientists estimate 15-20 years for moss to regrow.
There are over 10,000+ species of moss found around the world, but I have narrowed it down to the popular types of moss that are foraged in my region and used in floral arrangements. Mood moss (Dicranum Scoparium) and sheet moss (Hypnum curvifolium). These types of mosses can be found in moist, damp and shady environments.
While harvesting from the wild may be invigorating and exciting, it may require a special permit. Depending on those regulations, there may be a limited quantity you can remove. Their intent is to protect species and habitat for specific wildlife. So please, check with your local forestrydepartment prior to foraging in the wild!
If you are interested in learning more about foraging forest moss, check out this excellentresource regarding moss collection and identification from Penn State College of Agriculture.
I’ve grown up having been told Usnea was a type of moss that hung from the trees in the forest. As I dive deeper into understanding the depths of nature, I’ve learned it is actually considered a Fungi! It is easily harvested from branches that cover the forest floor or fallen trees. Areas of the forest can be absolutely covered in it!. It is in abundance where we live, therefore I like to forage regularly. I use it like moss in my decor or it can also be used for medicinal purposes. It does not require water after harvesting and it should be stored in an airtight container.
How can you use foraged materials to decorate your home for winter?
Foraging is a sustainable and cost-effective method used for creating budget friendly seasonal decor. Despite it being the sleeping season for most plants, winter can still be a great time to gather textural elements that so many of us associate with the holidays.
Along with the usual evergreens, don’t forget to include grasses and natural dried elements from your garden and roadsides near your house. There is no reason to go purchase all the decor with nature at your fingertips! With a little bit of inspiration and quality time outside you can create Pinterest worthy decor!
Region Specific Foraging
What you forage can be especially unique to your region, specific taste or love for the natural elements! There may be greater access to winter berries, brightly colored branches or excess of quaking aspens. You can gather enough for simple table arrangements or a multitude of creations. Including tree ornaments, door swags, garlands or wreaths.
The greatest thing about foraging is that it can be done over a period of time as you venture your neighborhood, walk down local walking paths, help a neighbor with yard clean up or decide to take a hike! It is so good for the soul to find things to incorporate in your seasonal decor that sparks joy, a memory from that adventure or a place you love!
Just be aware there is foraging etiquette and the best place is to start in your own backyard. The next would be along neighborhood streets or public roadways. Check local ordinances as your specific region may have places officially approved for foraging!
As always, talk with private landowners before harvesting. It’s better to ask permission than forgiveness in this situation. You might not get the chance for forgiveness! Always harvest in moderation from an area.
Foraging can be beneficial as long as it is not overdone! A little education on proper harvest techniques is also beneficial prior to your first adventure. While cones can be foraged from the ground. Other foraged items may require a little more technique to harvest.
Tips for a Successful Foraging Trip
1. Secure Permission to Forage
When looking for places in your area to forage, it is important to secure permission from the landowner and double check public foraging policies before removing anything from the property. Getting to know people around you and in your community is also key to successful foraging.
2. Keep Records & Notes
Write stuff down. I carry a notebook for my brain dump! I write down ideas, locations, things that are important and places I want to revisit. This is the best way to remember places where you want to return to, come winter!
3. Arrive Prepared to Forage
Have a sack/reusable totes stored in your car. You never know when you might discover something you want to add to your decor. There have been many times where I've had to sacrifice a water bottle or coffee mug to carry my finds back home!
4. Make it Ongoing with Proper Storage.
You may find that you find things you wish to gather throughout the season. Find a dry place to store any grasses, branches or logs through the months. Some materials do not require water or are better dried and preserved. If so, find a safe spot out of sight until the ideal time to put something together.
Repurpose and upcycle on a budget
Ways I have cut down on seasonal decor expenses, is to recycle and repurpose things I have available.
Large Patio Pots
Nothing says welcome like a large patio arrangement on either side of the front door. All of the decor elements can be repurposed, foraged and arranged to make a statement all season long.
My favorite hack! I discovered at a local restaurant over the Christmas holiday, they had created gnomes out of evergreen branches and strategically placed them all over their patios. The branches were angled and secured, all coming to a point at the top. Over the top it was secured with an oversized Santa hat! I took that inspiration and scaled it down for the homeowner. Start by placing and securing a small tomato cage upside down on a patio pot. I did so, by placing large rocks over the wire and into the pot.
By doing that, I was able to secure it from damage by wind and to withstand the weight of the evergreen branches. Next, I secured pine branches around the cage with medium sized wire and zip ties. Making sure the base of each branch was pointed up. It may require a little more wire to help overlapping branches fill in the gaps and keep everything together. You can never over wire in this case! Once the cone shape was to my liking, I wrapped it in white lights and topped with a Santa hat. It added such a whimsical forest theme for the season.
Box store wreath bases
Not everyone has access to willow branches, dogwoods or flexible non sap filled branches. One of the key elements I continue year after year is to reuse wreath bases. I purchased them years ago from a big box store. They are well worth the cost, which wasn’t very much and I appreciate keeping things out of the landfill. It also helps in keeping my predetermined size of wreath and so I now have a general idea for the amount of materials in which you need to forage.
Large Wooden bowls/trays
Another way I like to keep consistent is the centerpiece size. If you want to establish an everyday centerpiece vs. a runner and one that can be removed if needed. If you use a tray or sizeable oblong bread bowl, you can easily rotate in and out seasonal decor by foraging for various-sized pine cones, aspen logs, moss, or evergreen boughs to fit around. Add repurposed candles or candle sticks for an added touch. It makes a simple switch out for no cost.
Creating for market on a budget
Check with local landowners or the nearest Forest Service. For a small fee, you may forage multiple types of holiday greenery for a minimal cost. You can use the permit to find a tree to decorate your home and harvest leftover branches. Or, if you intend to use it to fulfill multiple orders of greenery, take advantage of the different types of greenery available and harvest an entire tree or the amount your permit allows. It is the most inexpensive and environmentally friendly way to accumulate a large amount of greenery and avoid ordering wholesale. Not only are your products created locally, they were harvested locally with the end user in mind.
Create an ad on Marketplace. As long as you are willing to do a little sweat equity, you may come home with free natural holiday decorations. I have seen multiple posts regarding aspen or birch logs, free as long as you take them all! If you have more specific wants, create that ad. People will take you up on free clean up-especially if you haul away all the pinecones, evergreen branches, dogwood branches and berries. Sweat equity goes a long way in keeping costs down!
Foraging is an environmentally conscious and budget-savvy way to incorporate nature into your seasonal decor. While winter is generally a season of rest and reset, nature still provides many things available to forage. Remember, with a short walk out your back door or a leisurely drive to the park near you, you can have seasonal favorites and must-haves at your fingertips.
Simple things such as cones, leaves, twigs, and branches don’t require any special storage or steps upon harvesting. They can be harvested over time. While berries, bark, and moss may require a little more care or searching. These three add the perfect finishing touch and pops of color to any Christmas decoration. Foraging can be the ultimate adventure, bring others along, get inspired by nature, and create memories discovering the things around you!
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