After the leaves have fallen, the well-fortified garden is filled with a wealth of late-season branches, berries, hips, dried grasses and flower heads for rustic fall décor. Early fall is when they are at their brightest and most beautiful for indoor and outdoor decorating.
Spring and fall are the best times to plant ornamentals that remain pretty through winter. Crinkly dried hydrangea flowers, puffy grass seed heads, berried and hipped branches of hollies and roses, and colorful twigs and greens all look seasonal and appealing when arranged for display. Gather them for Thanksgiving or winter holiday table displays, or place them in pots outdoors to keep your home looking festive.
Here are some of our favorites to plant and enjoy for harvest décor.
Broom Corn (Sorghum bicolor): As the name suggests, the canes from this annual ornamental grass are used for broom making, but their glossy, pendulous seed heads of burgundy brown are also very showy. Start broom corn in spring for fall harvest. Outdoor displays of these seed heads will also feed winter birds.
Pearl Millet (Pennisetum glaucum): This is the common millet that’s grown for pet store birds, but its bold, upright heads of grain look equally attractive in the garden and arrangements. The warm-season annual grass must be planted in spring, after the threat of frost has passed. The eye-catching purple variety ‘Purple Baron’ looks especially pretty in the garden. If used in outdoor displays, expect birds to pick away at the seeds.
Perennial Grasses: There are many perennial grasses with seed heads that are slow to shatter in winter. Airier grass heads include switchgrass (Panicum virgatum) and maidengrass (Miscanthus sinensis; this grass is invasive, so choose a non-to-low-seeding variety like ‘Hinjo’ or ‘Silberpfeil’ (aka. ‘Silver Arrow)). The foxtail stems of perennial fountain grass (Pennisetum alopecuroides) are also especially pretty when dry.
Amaranth (Amaranthus spp.) and Celosia (Celosia spp.): These closely related plants bear everlasting flowers that hold their color and looks for a long time, especially when harvested in fall and hung to dry. Purple amaranth (Amaranthus hypochondriacus), Cockscomb (Celosia argentea var. cristata), and spike celosia (Celosia spicata) are some of the best types for drying.
Hydrangea (Hydrangea spp.): By fall, hydrangea blooms are papery and ready to harvest. Clip the stems for any indoor or outdoor bouquet.
Lotus (Nelumbo nucifera): Stems of lotus seedheads are sold for top dollar at craft stores, but if you have a large, water-holding pot, you can grow them at home and collect and seed heads in fall for arranging. Start lotus in late spring; fill the bottom of your pot with a 1:2 mixture of Fafard Premium Natural & Organic Compost and heavy topsoil to a depth of 4-6 inches. Nestle a lotus rhizome in the mix, and then add 12-15 inches of water to the pot. As the weather warms, your lotus will quickly grow and bloom. Add fresh water as needed, and divide the rhizomes at the end of the season, if they outgrow the pot.
Dried Wildflowers: Collect common roadside wildflower seed heads along public thoroughfares. Choice options include the heads of teasel (Dipsacus fullonum), goldenrod (Solidago spp.) and milkweed pods (Asclepias spp.). These look wild and wonderful gathered in rustic containers beside ornamental squash and greens.
Choose any bare-branched, bright berries or hips for fall and winter displays. Those wishing to grow their own should consider growing pretty berried trees, like rowan (Sorbus spp.) and hawthorn (Crataegus viridis ‘Winter King’); winter birds will flock to their branches, too. Shrubs with lasting berries include winterberry (Ilex verticillata, read more about growing winterberry here), firethorn (Pyracantha coccinea), and shrub roses with bright hips (Rosa spp.).
Colorful and textural twigs add vertical interest to any bouquet or pot. The most brightest are red twig dogwood (Cornus sericea, click here to read more about growing red twig dogwood), which hold their color of red, orange, or yellow-green. Twisty branches, like curly willow and contorted filbert, are also texturally appealing alone or with berries and blooms. Evergreen branches of all kinds will add substance to your holiday displays.
The key to a good mixed vase or potted arrangement is choosing a suite of plant materials with different colors, textures, and heights. Considering the piece’s overall form before starting (click here for a more detailed DIY outdoor holiday arrangement how-to). Or, your can take a more simplistic, modern approach and fill a container with a single grass, branch, or floral element. Design your containers to fit your personal style, and you will always be pleased with the result.
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