Free Christmas decorations: Here's how to forage for an eco-friendly festive season

·6 min read
DIY Christmas wreath
Make your own decorations with nature's freebies. (Getty Images)

Christmas isn't cheap – and this year, many of us will be pushing the boat out when it comes to food and presents, in a bid to make up for last year's lonely lockdown Christmas.

With the price of food and fuel on the rise, however, savvy celebrators will be looking for ways to save without missing out. And decorating your home for the season is the perfect way to DIY, with everything you need readily available for nothing.

Christmas decorating in past years has often been very un-eco friendly, with endless plastic baubles, everlasting tinsel and synthetic fake trees — not to mention pollutant snow spray, and faux pine and forest scent aerosols. 

This, year, it's time to ditch all those planet-bothering items, and invest some time rather than money in gathering your own decorations, in full Good King Wenceslas mode.

hagebutte am Strauch im Winter
Rosehips are much prettier than plastic. (Getty Images)

To help you forage your festive decorations this year, Burleigh Pottery have investigated the best natural materials to look out for, and what to do with them.

Head for the woods and hedges, but take a guide such as the Plantsnap App, to make sure the branches and plants you're cutting are safe to have at home , and don't take too much.

What to gather

Evergreen foliage, such as ivy, holly, and mistletoe is the classic Christmas foliage. Holly tends to grow in oak or beech woodland, though if you can't locate any, try a local neighbourhood group to ask if anyone has any in their garden that you could swap for homemade cake or other cuttings.

Ivy grows on walls, tree trunks and ground-ivy grows in woodland. Snip what you need carefully to avoid damaging walls and tree trunks. 

Young girl holding a wicker basket with mistletoe branches with green leaves and white berries. (Viscum album). Christmas tradition concept. Selective focus.
Mistletoe is harder to find but you don't need much... (Getty Images)

Mistletoe can be tricky to find, and the berries are poisonous to animals and humans, so use very carefully if you have cats, dogs or small children. It's harder to gather as it tends to grow in tree branches, and often looks like a sparse bird's nest. According to The Woodland Trust, it's commonly found in apple, lime and poplar but has also been recorded on blackthorn, hawthorn, rowan and willow trees. It's less keen on woodland, and is more often found in gardens, orchards, parkland and churchyards.

It also depends where you live. It's most commonly found in "Wales, the West Midlands and the South of England, with particularly large populations in Gwent, Herefordshire, Worcestershire, Gloucestershire and Somerset", according to the Woodland Trust.

Watch: Forage for wild delights this winter

Easier to access are rosehips, rowan berries, and oak, birch and hazel twigs to structure your decorations. 

Fir cones, pine cones, and acorns are the perfect additions to any piece of festive decoration. Not only do they look beautiful, but they're easy to customise with paint and can also be used to bulk out your decorative wreaths and swags. 

And don't forget to check your own garden for materials too. For advice on sustainable foraging, check out these Woodland Trust guidelines.

A worker trims a holly tree at a farm ahead of the holiday season in British Columbia, Canada. Photographer: James MacDonald/Bloomberg
Wear gloves if you're picking holly. Sounds obvious but you'd be amazed... (Getty Images)

How to preserve your decorations

The good thing about plastic, in a sea of bad things, is, it lasts - and natural decorations don't. So to help them survive the festive period, you can preserve them first. Start soon, as the process takes around two weeks.

To preserve evergreens and berries, start by leaving them to soak in water overnight so they get as many nutrients as possible. Then, fill a jam jar with a centimetre of glycerine (Buy online or at a pharmacy) and two centimetres of hot water. Next, cut the bottom of the stems, gently crush the ends, and leave your foliage in the jar with the glycerine mixture until it has evaporated, which usually takes around two weeks.

To preserve pine cones and acorns, tart by giving them a good 45-minute soak in a bucket of hot water with two cups of white vinegar to get rid of any bugs, then leave them to air dry (this can take up to three or four days). Once they're dry, preserve them by applying clear varnish.

Read more: Make Your Home Merry and Bright with These DIY Christmas Decorations

Top view of yellow and orange berries in blue jar on rustic wood background with copy space
Preserve your branches and berries before you display them. (Getty Images)

How to use your natural decorations

Make a greenery table-runner. Instead of forking out for plastic snowmen and scented candles, create a naturally scented rope of pine branches, ivy and pine cones. You can use florists' wire to help you shape it, or go natural- and there's plenty of Youtube and Tiktok videos to help.

Burleigh suggests: "To make your greenery table runner, simply bunch around five stems of foliage together and tie them with floral wire. Then make another five of these bunches and tie them all together in a row with floral wire. Finish off by nestling your extras in the runner, such as pine cones, twigs, and berries."

The same techniques work for mantelpiece swags - you could interweave with satin ribbon or glass baubles too. 

Avoid real candles amongst twigs, however pretty they look - LED fairy lights or battery-powered candles are a lot safer. 

christmas wreath and decorations over fireplace mantel with white brick wall
Make a swag for the mantelpiece with your foraged greenery. (Getty Images)

Make a festive wreath

Start with a wire frame to build your wreath around - you can use florists' wire, make one out of a coat hanger, or even use cardboard. Tie your holly, ivy, pine cones and berries together with floral wire, and stick them in the frame until it is fully covered. Make sure to overlap the bunches to make it look full. 

You can make a rustic, fragrant wreath with dried orange slices and cinnamon sticks, too. 

Christmas wreath made of natural fir branches  hanging on a white wall.  Wreath with natural ornaments: bumps, walnuts, cinnamon, cones. New year and winter holidays. Christmas decor
Add cinnamon sticks and dried flowers to your festive wreath. (Getty Images)

Pine cone bowls

Display comes in a stylish decorative bowl with twigs of winter berries. Or if you're looking for natural ways to incorporate a festive fragrance in your home, you could create a decorative winter potpourri with pine cones, dried orange, cinnamon sticks, and nutmegs.

Avoid glitter (micro plastics are terrible for the environment and can kill sea creatures) — instead, give them a dab of white paint, or dab on glue and dip in table salt or caster sugar instead.

Read more: Best sustainable gifts for Christmas 2021: Our guide to this year’s top eco-friendly presents

vintage metal kettle with pine cones. Rustic nordic scandinavian country cottage style decor. winter still life. christmas card
Pine cones; nature's baubles. (Getty Images)

Decorate the tree

Unless you grew your tree yourself, or planted last year's, you may have to buy one - decorate it with strings of popcorn, pine cones, berries, ribbons, and even dried flowers. You can make ornaments from salt dough, or even old jewellery, and bake Christmas biscuits to hang from the branches. And of course, try to find one with roots and keep in soil so you can plant it out and re-use it next year.

Christmas tree with eco friendly decorations, ornaments and gifts on an old wood background
A Christmas tree with eco friendly decorations, ornaments and gifts is a festive delight. (Getty Images)

Watch: How to make last-minute Christmas decorations

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