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Bring autumn beauty indoors

October 22, 2014

autumn maple leaves
To keep the color of autumn leaves for indoor arrangements, keep the branches in water like cut flowers.
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Your own backyard can provide a bounty of beauty for autumn decorating, including a centerpiece for the Thanksgiving table, according to Abbie Rea, manager of horticulture at The Morton Arboretum.

Colorful leaves, grasses, seed heads, and dried flower heads are plentiful right outside your door.  But you’ll need to plan ahead a bit, Rea says. Here are some tips for lovely fall arrangements:

• Move quickly to beat the animals to branches with berries, seeds, or nuts; gourds; and anything else that might tempt squirrels, mice, chipmunks, and voles. Until you’re ready to use them, keep these materials someplace safe from small foragers, such as in a plastic tub with a tight-fitting lid. It’s a good idea to put berry-laden branches in water so the berries stay plump.

• If you collect branches of maples, oaks, or other trees and shrubs for their red, orange and yellow leaves, place the cut stems immediately in water and keep them in a cool, dark place. “Treat them like cut flowers,” Rea says. Otherwise the colors will fade and the leaves will dry out.

• Wait to cut grasses until you’re ready to use them. The seed heads of some grasses, such as maiden grass (Miscanthus sinensis) will “shatter,” Rea says, scattering seeds everywhere. Others, such as switchgrass (Panicum virgatum) and feather reed grass (Calamagrostis x acutiflora), will keep a tidy, compact seed head.

• Look for dried flowers from shrubs, such as hydrangea; sculptural seed heads from perennials, such as astilbe, coneflower, and milkweed; and interesting pods, such as honey locust.

• A few springs of evergreens such as white pine will make a crisp contrast to the browns and golds of the dried plants.

• Arrangements for the sideboard or entry tend to be strong verticals. For a centerpiece, keep it low, but focus more on complexity. “You’re going to be right up close so you want to see different textures and colors,” Rea says.  
• Anchor dried materials in a crumple of chicken wire. For materials that need moisture to stay fresh, such as colorful autumn leaves, use moist florist’s foam, available at craft stores.