University of Vermont Extension 
Department of Plant and Soil Science

 Fall News Article


Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor
University of Vermont
Autumn is often associated with certain decorations, including cornucopias, straw or grapevine wreaths, garlands, and dried flower arrangements.  Although many decorations can be bought ready-made, making your own can be a fun family activity for a fall afternoon.
For the cornucopia, which signifies a bountiful harvest with plenty to eat, you'll need the traditional horn-shaped basket (available at most craft or basket shops); shellac or paint; real, dried, or artificial fruit and vegetables; pine cones; and plant materials.  Paint or shellac the basket before you begin, allowing plenty of time to dry, before you fill with your choice of items. For fruits, slice, then dry them less than 150 degrees for at least 6 hours.  You can even add some fresh flowers, placed in small vials of water called “florist tubes”, available from florist shops. 
Enjoy your centerpiece, then in December turn it into a holiday decoration by spray painting the cornucopia with gold or silver paint.  Then stuff it with greens, berries, and pine cones of all sizes.
Another decoration appropriate for the fall season is a straw or grapevine wreath.  Hop vines work great, too!  Again, supplies and ideas for decorations are available at craft shops.  Wrap the wreath with colorful ribbon, covering the entire surface, or loosely wrap it, leaving sections exposed.  Then add the finishing touches--a colorful bow, a few sprigs of wheat, or a cluster of fruit. Or, cover the wreath with a variety of dried flowers and leaves.  Strawflowers and other everlastings such as globe amaranth are ideal for this.  Cut blooms and leaves into five- or six-inch lengths.  Work with your largest flowers first, spacing them in a random pattern around the wreath.  Then fill in with smaller flowers, pushing the ends in firmly.  For a fuller effect, face the flowers in all different directions.
If you dried flowers from your home garden this year, or have bought some, group these in bouquets with pods, cones, and candles for attractive table arrangements.  Or buy fresh flowers, such as chrysanthemums, carnations, lilies, alstroemeria (Peruvian lily), rose, or pre-made bouquets for your table in the traditional fall colors of yellow, orange, bronze, and maroon. If you dried flowers, you may want to spray them with a preservative such as shellac.  Dried milkweed pods, with the fluffy seeds removed, can be sprayed colors.  Ornamental grasses such as the moor, feather reed, or switch grasses add delicate, feathery fine textures to arrangements.  If you have children or pets you may want to avoid using berries if decorations are within reach, as some popular fall berries such as bittersweet and mountain ash may be toxic.
For a festive harvest touch, decorate your mantle or door entrance with a garland of dried roses or other large blooms.  You will need heavy quilting thread, a tapestry needle, dried flowers, and beads or bows.  Use a double thread and string the flowers together from bloom to stem.  You may want to intersperse colored beads with the blooms, or alternate with tiny bows.  Or you could just add a tassel or huge matching bow at the ends of the garland.

Dried hydrangea blooms also make a nice garland.  Use florist's wire to tie them securely to a cord, such as the type used to tie back draperies.  Add ribbons or spray blooms lightly with your choice of spray paint.  Or wire together shafts of wheat, trimming stems so all pieces are about the same length.  Add dried orange slices or clusters of dried flowers for a harvest look.  This type of garland is particularly suited for an outdoor decoration.
For any dried materials, make sure to keep them away from flames or sources of heat so they don’t accidentally catch fire.  They burn much more readily, of course, than fresh green plants.  Also it is often best to enjoy them during the season, then discard.  Some like to keep dried arrangements until next year, only to find the plant materials shrivel and get quite dusty.  Vine wreaths (base with dried plants removed) and treated gourds may be saved more successfully.

Of course, you could also go with the more traditional fall decorations--pumpkins and gourds, for example, or bunches of colorful Indian corn tied with a bow and hung on the front door.  Pumpkins are popular for carving, but now are quite popular painted, as are gourds.  This is a great activity for children.  You can choose a theme, such as endangered animals, a favorite movie character, a Halloween figure such as witch, or whatever creativity allows. 

When picking gourds, wipe down first with a household disinfectant (or quite weak bleach solution) to kill any surface organisms that might cause rot.  Then allow them to dry, for a few days to several weeks.  Other than painting, you have several options with gourds. You can buff with paste wax for a shiny surface.  Painting or spraying with shellac will give a harder surface.  For a formal effect, gild with gold or silver powder from craft stores.  Simply spray with shellac and then shake while still moist in a bag of the powder.

Return to Perry's Perennial Pages, Articles uvmext logo