Outdoor Plants for Indoor Elegance

Ready to take your holiday plants beyond poinsettias? Using outdoor plants as indoor décor can create an unexpectedly elegant feel. Try some of these plants for a natural celebration of the season.

Amaryllis are easy to force for wintertime bloom. With their relatively slender stalks holding the flower heads above eye level, they work well in table arrangements.  Courtesy of WhiteFlowerFarm.com

Amaryllis (Hippeastrum spp.)

The large trumpet-shape flowers of Amaryllis are a popular choice for holiday gift giving and decorating. But while they may be better known as an indoor plant, hardy amaryllis will happily transition to your garden after the festivities have ended.

Becky Heath of online retailer Brent and Becky’s Bulbs says most amaryllis varieties should be able to overwinter in our area’s mild winters, and become a permanent fixture in the late spring garden.

Of course, if you want to time their blooms for holiday décor, you will need to plant them in pots and bring them indoors. Plant them in late October or early November to have blooms in time for Christmas.

While the large bulbs don’t mind being grown in relatively small pots, you will want to ensure it is heavy enough to avoid tipping over, as the flower stalks can grow to over two feet tall. To keep them as compact and sturdy as possible, give the plants plenty of light until ready to display. Heath explains, “When forcing bulbs to bloom during the winter, the day length is much shorter than it would be if they bloomed when they wanted to – late spring/early summer. That’s why they grow so tall indoors – they are searching for the sun.” She recommends using grow lights, or being prepared to stake them for additional support.

A few gardenia blossoms floating in a bowl or placed in bud vases will perfume your entire home. Courtesy of GardenersConfidence.com


A staple of the Southern summer garden, gardenias can also be found in florist’s shops as an indoor plant for holiday gift giving. While they can be somewhat prone to whiteflies if kept indoors for the long term, a simple and fragrant solution is to float the blossoms in bowls of water.


Terry Furuta, a floral designer in Atlanta, uses mosses, locally-grown orchids, air plants, and other botanical materials to create terrariums and other pieces, like this 30” moss centerpiece. Photo by Franca Frossini.


Annie Martin, known on the garden lecture circuit as “Mossin’ Annie,” shares her tips for caring for moss as an indoor plant on her website, MountainMoss.com. She points out that, “Mosses are at their best when their leaves are fully hydrated.” A glass terrarium can help keep moisture levels adequate when growing moss indoors, and a cluster of glass containers creates an easy, understated look. Use activated charcoal as a base layer in your terrarium to absorb odors.

Martin also suggests, “Moss art made from ‘forest driftwood’ can be brought in to use on mantles or as dining table centerpieces.” She recommends using shade mosses for the lower light levels inside our homes, and sells a DIY terrarium tray of suitable species on her website.

Dwarf evergreens like Hot Head® Arborvitae fit well in containers, either inside or outside your home. Courtesy of GardenersConfidence.com

Dwarf conifers

The trend toward downsized gardens and the popularity of container gardening has led to the introduction of more dwarf varieties of plants. Using these outdoor plants indoors is a low-cost, if short-term, method for creating striking arrangements inside your home.

Try a variety like Hot Head® Arborvitae as a mini Christmas tree or as part of a greenery arrangement. At maturity, this plant will only reach about four feet in height, and will generally be under two feet when sold at the nursery. Try placing the arborvitae on a raised surface, and clustering other plants around it for additional height.

While these plants will do best if you keep them well-watered and out of direct heat sources like fireplaces and heat vents, spending a few weeks indoors shouldn’t do them lasting harm. Alternatively, you can use them in containers flanking your front door or leading up your front walk to greet visitors. Using bows or other ornaments to coordinate with your indoor décor can help create a seamless look.

Sprigs of Ever Red® Loropetalum, a popular foundation shrub, are striking in combination with cut flowers. Courtesy of GardenersConfidence.com

Fresh choices for cut greenery

The traditional method for using outdoor plants for indoor decorating is to use cut greenery. Evergreen branches can be used to create swags, wreaths, candle rings, and other arrangements. For a fresh take, look for evergreen plants other than the standard pine boughs, holly branches, and magnolia leaves.

Ever Red® Loropetalum is one of these choices. With deep burgundy foliage, Ever Red offers a rich contrast to other evergreen plants.

Fire Chief™ Thuja is brushed with a deep, reddish-orange in fall, to add a bright, warm touch and a delicate texture to mixed arrangements. Its compact, rounded form can also fit well into large containers.

Blue Cascade® Distylium

Try this for deep blue-green foliage with graceful, horizontal branches that will lay well on mantelpieces and tabletops. A virtually bullet-proof foundation shrub that makes a superb replacement for boxwoods and hollies, Distylium is a strong grower that will soon replace any branches cut for holiday décor.

Winterberry (Ilex verticillata)

Deciduous hollies like these offer a unique look for holly branches, with leafless stems bearing clusters of brilliant red berries. To grow these in your own yard, make space for both a female and male plant to cross-pollinate. The branches you don’t cut will provide food for the birds.


  • Written by Helen Newling Lawson

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