Creative Ideas from UT Gardens Curator

​Deck your halls and walls with things found in your very own garden this holiday season. Photo by Roman Kraft. 
This holiday season, deck your halls and walls with things found in your garden. Fresh-cut greenery from your very own landscape can bring a festive cheer indoors, says Jason Reeves, research horticulturist and garden curator at the UT Gardens in Jackson, Tennessee. To extend the life of fresh-cut greenery, soak it in a bucket of water overnight to hydrate the leaves and stems before using, or spray with a product like Wilt Proof.

When it comes to using your own greenery, just be careful not to over-prune, adds Reeves. When cutting conifers, don’t go beyond the innermost needles, says Jason Reeves, If you do over-prune conifers, they may not regenerate like they should.

Another idea many have during the holidays is using a living Christmas tree that can be planted outdoors after the holidays pass. While this sounds appealing, it can be a disappointing experience without proper selection and care of your tree. First, you should carefully select one that is suited to your part of the state. While white pine, spruce and fir will work in the cooler parts of Tennessee, they should be avoided in the warmer areas. Virginia pine, Eastern red cedar, Japanese cedar and Arizona cypress are good choices for all parts of Tennessee. Hemlock and Leyland cypress should be avoided due to numerous problems with insects and disease once in the landscape.

Any living tree brought indoors should not remain inside longer than five days. One option is to go ahead and put the lights on the tree and enjoy it outside before time to bring it indoors. Be sure to keep it well watered but not standing in water. Once Christmas is over, move it outdoors and plant.

Be sure to check out sale racks at local garden centers for bulbs that have been reduced in price. If they feel firm and are not moldy, they should still be good. Plant them as soon as possible. There is still time for them to get the winter chilling they need.

Cyclamen, kalanchoe, poinsettia, paperwhites, amaryllis, Christmas cactus, English ivy and rosemary topiaries offer weeks of added color and interest to the home during the holidays. Most perform best in bright, indirect light away from drafts, but rosemary would appreciate as much light as possible. The cyclamen, kalanchoe and poinsettias are often best added to the compost pile once they begin to decline.

The University of Tennessee Gardens include plant collections located in Knoxville, Crossville and Jackson. Designated as the official botanical garden for the State of Tennessee, the collections are part of the UT Institute of Agriculture. The Gardens’ mission is to foster appreciation, education and stewardship of plants through garden displays, educational programs and research trials. The Gardens are open during all seasons and free to the public. For more information, see the website:



Jason Reeves, UT Gardens research horticulturist and curator, 731-425-4765,​