Using Trees and Foliage for Outdoor Christmas Decorations

christmas lights on house
TOSHI SASAKI / Getty Images

Stringing lights on the house is a holiday classic, but the best outdoor Christmas decorating schemes incorporate plenty of natural elements, too. Trees, shrubs, even ground covers can play an important role in creating a magical holiday scene that will delight your neighbors and guests. Decorated plantings can also give you a wonderful view from inside the house. And don’t forget about incorporating natural elements into door decorations and other outdoor embellishments.

  • 01
Pick a Tree, Any Tree
Trees lighted up with blue Christmas lights and a lit star in orange.
Deciduous trees can also be strung with Christmas lights, just as evergreen trees.  TOSHI SASAKI/Getty Images

When you think of great plants for winter landscapes, what may come to mind first are evergreens, such as the most well-known plants in the Christmas tradition. But don’t think that deciduous trees and shrubs are useless for Christmas decorating. Leafless (or needle-less) tree trunks and branches provide an ideal framework for dazzling light displays.

  • 02
Dwarf the Competition at the Front Door
Alberta spruce trees decorated for Christmas and flanking a front door with wreaths.
Dwarf Alberta spruce trees are commonly used just as they are used here: to flank a front door.  Ellen Rooney/Getty Images

In the North, few trees are used to landscape an entryway as extensively as dwarf Alberta spruces. They are slow-growing and can be grown in containers (as shown here) for years.

This scene is dominated by symmetry, which was probably suggested by the double doors. Each door has a Christmas wreath. The matching dwarf Alberta spruce trees simply continue the theme of symmetrical balance.

  • 03
Grow an Outdoor Christmas Tree and Decorate It
Couple with a ladder decorating an outdoor Christmas tree in a snowy landscape.
With an evergreen like spruce in the yard, you can also decorate a Christmas tree outdoors to celebrate the season (this one’s a bit too close to the house, though).  Westend61/Getty Images

We usually think of an indoor setting when mention is made of decorating Christmas trees. But if you are lucky enough to be growing an evergreen tree, such as a Colorado blue spruce, out in the yard, why not attach ornaments to it for the holiday season?

  • 04

Take Advantage of Horizontal Branching

Christmas ball ornaments hanging from a dogwood tree.
Dogwoods tend to have horizontal branches that are excellent for hanging Christmas ornaments from.  David Beaulieu

Some trees have branches that grow in a more horizontal pattern than is the norm. One example is the dogwood tree. These homeowners have seized the opportunity to decorate the limbs of a dogwood with classy Christmas ornaments.

  • 05
Spice Up a Christmas Window Box
Window box decorated for Christmas with bow, ornaments, winterberry and lotus pods.
It’s the lotus pods that make this Christmas window box unusual, although the winterberries are more eye-catching.  David Beaulieu

You may be more familiar with window boxes containing annuals, where live plantings of bright flowers provide the color. This won’t do during a cold winter, obviously. So for Christmas decorating, window boxes will rely on evergreen boughs, ribbons, ornaments, and more.

The little things can often make a difference when designing a small decoration. That’s why an unusual creative touch can have a great impact in a window box. If you look at this window box closely you can see the four brownish objects. Those are lotus pods, which can be bought at craft stores. The color, though, is provided primarily by the bright red berries of winterberry holly.

  • 06
Go Nuts With Garlands
Couple hanging garlands on a house with a ladder for Christmas.
Christmas garlands are versatile decorations, usable on houses, fences, arbors, etc.  Jodi Jacobson/Getty Images

Evergreen garlands, even if only lightly decorated, can add significant interest to a front door design for the holidays. They can cover a lot of space and are flexible enough to be easily maneuvered around a door or other home element.

The versatility of garlands for Christmas decorating is impressive. In addition to hanging them around doorways or on fences, here are some other possible uses:

  • Running along deck railings
  • Spiraling down lamp posts
  • Wrapping around porch columns
  • Decorating mailbox posts
  • Stringing along arbors, trellises, archways, or pergolas
  • 07
Get Your Red and Green On
Columns with garlands and urns with Christmas decorations flanking a front door with a wreath.
A great way to decorate a front door at Christmas is to flank it with urns and fill them with the colors of the season.  David Beaulieu

This display does a nice job of working in the two primary colors of Christmas: red and green. The homeowner is off to a head start by virtue of having a red front door, of course.

The color green is furnished by the wreath and by the garlands on the porch columns. Red is also worked into the design via the berries on the wreath and the ribbons and red branches in the urns. Those branches come from a shrub called “red-twig dogwood.” Stems of pussy willow have also been used in the urns, but these are of value mainly for up-close viewing (they do not show up well enough to have much of an impact from the street).

  • 08
Hang a Fruit Fan Over Your Doorway
Fruit (apples and a pineapple) displayed over a doorway as an outdoor Christmas decoration.
The pineapple in this fruit ensemble is a traditional symbol of welcome, while the apples inject a Christmas color into the display.  Kelly/Mooney Photography/Getty Images

“Fruit fans” are great for bringing Christmas cheer to the outdoors through the artful use of colorful-but-classy decorations. They look especially good when decorating a pediment. The house in the example pictured here does not have a pediment—the arrangement has simply been attached above the door—but the decoration still works as a means of injecting color into the front door entrance.

Note that the pineapple has long been a symbol of welcome. Decorative pineapples are also used in this way at gate entrances.

  • 09
Adorn Your Fence With a Wreath
Wooden fence decorated with a Christmas wreath.
Wreaths are not just for doors: This one dresses up a rustic fence.  Design Pics Inc/Getty Images

Be ready to take advantage of any suitable component in your landscaping when it comes to finding places to decorate for Christmas. This rather plain fence has been turned into a nice wreath-holder.

  • 10
Hedge Your Bets
Hedge covered in frost, with other plants decorated for Christmas.
If you can’t have snow, frost is the next best thing to inject holiday spirit into a scene.  Clive Nichols/Getty Images

These homeowners have grown an assortment of small trees in back of their row of hedge plants and decorated them for Christmas with ribbons. The frost on the whole ensemble adds nicely to the festive feel; snow would be even better.

  • 11
Light Up Your Foundation Plantings
Christmas lights decorating a shrub with snow.
The snow makes the Christmas lights on this shrub even more effective.  Stuart Westmorland/Getty Images

Don’t forget your shrubs when you consider hanging Christmas lights in the yard. If you have planted bushes along a wall of your house (a so-called “foundation planting”), then you have a particularly good opportunity in this regard. Don’t waste it: Enliven the shrubs with colorful Christmas lights. If snow falls on the shrubs, they may look even better, since the lights illuminate the snow and give it interesting colors.

  • 12
Decorate With Natural Holly
Holly in a basket as an outdoor Christmas decoration.
Put holly in a basket as an outdoor Christmas decoration for a porch.  Lynne Brotchie/Getty Images

Holly shrubs have long been associated with this time of year, and a wreath made from its sprigs gives a different look from that offered by the more typical needled-evergreen wreaths, while still remaining oh-so Christmasy. Holly can also be used to decorate a lamppost.

These homeowners have simply arranged some holly in a basket, adding pinecones for variety. Another fun Christmas craft project is to make a kissing ball, using holly or other real plants.


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