Frost has long since withered most things outside, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still use natural decorations to cheer up your home for the holidays and bring life to the winter.
Evergreen branches are of course a mainstay, and we are blessed with many options and a lot of opportunity up here. I like using Douglas fir branches, because they are soft, lay flat, and smell good. It can also look great to mix a variety, including spruce, lodgepole, and ponderosa. These can be used in swags, wreaths, or arranged in large planter pots by the door where the weather may add some natural “flocking.”
Consider increasing interest by incorporating some lesser-used evergreens. Kinnickinnick has leathery green leaves that withstand frost, and bright red berries to boot! Creeping Mahonia has holly-shaped leaves that turn reddish in the winter; it’s the closest thing we’ll find to holly in Colorado.
For touches of color, look for wild rose hips. After a moist summer like this last one, they are plentiful. Put them outside after you are done to give the wild birds a snack, or make rose hip tea.
Pinecones have endless decorative uses – you can spray paint them silver or gold or with flocking, string them in garlands to grace a mantel or door, attach pinecones to a cone-shaped floral foam base to create a miniature tree, attach them to gifts, artfully arrange them around a candle as a centerpiece, and more. If you become really inspired, next year make a mental note to gather pine cones in the fall, before the snow covers them.
You’ll need a trip to the supermarket rather than the great outdoors for this one, but I am enchanted with orange slice ornaments. They are simple to make, thrifty and stunning. Take a nice orange (you’ll probably need about 3-4), slice it into many thin (1/4”) slices on “the equator” (not end-to-end). Then either dry them for a week or more on cooling racks (for airflow), or if you are in a hurry, you can place them in a 170° oven for 3 hours directly on the oven racks. Put a ribbon through it, and enjoy the way the sun lights them up like little stained glass windows. For best effect, place your tree (or ornaments) by a window.
A final fun natural decoration is to make ice lanterns for a special event. Fill balloons with water and place outside in below-freezing weather. When the outside has frozen solid (about an inch or more thick) but the center is still liquid, pop the balloon, pour out the water, and place a candle in the hollow. How long you need to let it freeze will depend on how cold it is, so keep checking them.