Marianne Binetti

Marianne Binetti: Storm debris has multiple uses

The first storms of the winter season have left us with a holiday bonus. Fallen evergreen boughs, branches and berries are ripe for the plucking from your lawn and garden beds.

From plant protection to Christmas decoration, here’s what to do with all that storm debris.


Nature’s insulation from freezing weather is as close as the cedar and fir boughs that were blown from the trees in the latest storm.

Gardeners stuck indoors due to shorter days and colder weather have an excuse to get outside and get moving by layering fallen leaves, evergreen boughs and other debris on top of tender plants this week.

The ground is kept warmer by just an inch or two of insulation layered over the roots of tender plants such as salvia, hardy fuchsia, lavender, canna, mums, and eucomis and pineapple lily.

Fallen leaves protect plants from freezing weather while fallen cedar limbs repel water and protect rot-sensitive plants from too much rain in the root zone. This month, plants, such as salvia and lavender that insist on good drainage, will welcome an umbrella of cedar.


There is another use for storm debris that is catching on with cities that want to go green and also with savvy citizens.

Instead of stringing lights and purchasing shiny ornaments, use branches of cedar to make garlands and evergreen bits from a mix of plants to fill the empty containers and hanging baskets that once festooned the summer garden.

Window boxes can be stuffed with drooping cedar and upright holly, while the colorful but leafless stems of coral bark maple or red twig dogwood can be poked into potting soil to add a colorful accent line to rise above the evergreen color.


Step one: Start with inserting the tallest branches you can find into the center of a pot, or back of a window box. If you don’t have branches from white barked birch or red twig dogwood, you can substitute curly willow, filbert or any bare branch with an interesting texture. The bare branches give the container display scale and height. Try to cut them long enough so that once inserted into the soil they are two-thirds as tall as the container.

Step two: Add evergreens to fill in around the bare branches. Now is the time to prune holly, leucothe, pieris japonica, camellia and mahonia if the winds did not deposit a bounty of evergreens for your display. Any plant that has berries will add color, so snip away at barberry, cotoneaster, snowberry and kinninick if you can’t find enough holly with red berries.

Step three: Save the drooping form of our native Western cedar for the front of your containers or to display along the entire edge of a pot. Allow the cedar to hide the stems of the other evergreen and spill forth from the pot’s rim. You can cut up cedar bits and wire it to picks or other branches as this tough evergreen will not wilt or dry out if the cut-end is not in moist soil. After cedar branches are cut from the plant, the branches are the most durable of our native evergreens. Avoid using native hemlock in displays as the needles fall from cut hemlock as soon as the bough begins to dry.


Add extra bits of color and texture to your outdoor holiday display using anything that is weatherproof. Pine cones and seed heads are traditional. Red yarnbows add a country touch. Metal cookie cutters or nut crackers will add a personal touch. You also could display your collections.

Going green and going natural this winter has one more advantage: Your outdoor holiday display can fill the voids and should continue to look fresh throughout the chilly month of January. Then, when you are ready for spring, you won’t have to worry about storing the holiday display. Your collection of evergreens, bark and berries can go right into the compost pile.