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WVU experts offer tips to deck the halls with budget- and eco-friendly decorating ideas

A holiday table with a plate of dried oranges resting near a red poinsettia. There is an illuminated tree in the background.

WVU Extension experts suggest simple, low-cost decorating ideas like dried oranges can easily and affordably make a space more festive. (WVU Photo/Holly Leleux-Thubron)

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With the holiday season officially underway, West Virginia University Extension experts are offering simple, low-cost decorating tips to help you save money while creating meaningful experiences with friends and family.

Alex Mathias, assistant professor and Extension 4-H agent in Grant County, and Luci Mosesso, Extension 4-H agent in Pocahontas County, enjoy taking advantage of opportunities to use simple items and the beauty of nature to create unique home decor and gifts. Both say the holidays offer the perfect opportunity to experiment with “found” objects and natural items to make a fun, festive home for all to enjoy.


“Dried oranges are not only economical but also back in style when decorating. They are a simple way to make garland, decorate gift boxes or add pizzazz to your tree as ornaments, and you can even use them for stovetop potpourri or ciders. Make sure to dry them fully and properly to ensure they won’t mold. It’s a great way to create coziness and save money. Additionally, with supervision during the slicing process, it is a great way to involve kids, too.

“Make your home smell like the holidays with a stovetop simmer pot. There are many ways to do a simmer pot, including using fresh or dried fruits as well as mixing and matching your spices. For a simmer pot to be prepared that day you can add several orange slices, a stick of cinnamon, one-half cup of cranberries and a sprig of pine. Dried oranges can be substituted for fresh and usually last longer. Dried apples, cloves, star anise and more can be added too. Add enough water to cover all items in a small pot and turn on low on a stovetop. It will take 20 minutes or so to start to smell the simmer pot. You can leave it on the lowest setting all day, if you are home to check on it. Refill water as needed and enjoy.

“Salt dough ornaments are an age-old tradition that are super affordable and fun. Salt dough can be stamped, painted, molded and more. Let your artistic side show without breaking the bank. When properly dried, salt dough ornaments can last decades.

“If you want a true throwback and inexpensive way to make all the garland you need, make a popcorn garland. All you need is embroidery floss or even waxed dental floss, a needle, scissors and unbuttered popcorn along with and shellac to make it last longer. Make sure you pop plain popcorn to avoid flavor or salt residues. To make it more festive and colorful, add cranberries. Take time to string your popcorn garlands. Garland can be used on trees, mantels and around windows inside the home. While these usually only last the season, you can make it a tradition of stringing popcorn garland each year.” — Alex Mathias, WVU Extension assistant professor and 4-H agent, Grant County

“Fresh greens are the perfect, budget-friendly accent to make a cozy home around the holidays. Many of our everyday decorations can become holiday or winter decor simply by adding holly, boxwood or pine. Add in natural or painted dried flowers and seed pods for accent pieces. As the days get shorter, we tend to spend more sedentary time indoors, so foraging for greenery is a great way to get back outside for a little sunshine and exercise when we need it the most. When it’s time to clean up, the greens can be composted, used for fires or taken back to the woods to decompose.

“Pine boughs are a staple foraged decoration in our house. When trimming your tree, save the bottom branches for the foundation of the boughs. I like to start with pine and add boxwood for texture followed by juniper or holly for a little color. Green zip ties blend in perfectly and are an easy way to hold it all together. Pick out your favorite ribbon to finish them off. I put boughs under the windows and even on the mailbox post. If you have any old sleds or ice skates, they make the perfect winter complement to fresh pine boughs.

“Bringing greens indoors is a great way to fight off the dark days of winter. I like to use ground pine, holly, eucalyptus and rosemary for indoor decorations. The rosemary and eucalyptus smell fresh and dry nicely for extended periods of time. The ground pine provides volume and the delicate holly berries are a perfect pop of color. Use these greens to spruce up grapevine wreaths, advent wreaths or create a mantel display with candles or lights, but be sure to watch candles or choose the battery-operated ones.

“Pine cones are another fun, budget-friendly winter decoration. Fill up antique baskets with cones, a few springs of greenery, battery-operated fairy lights and a ribbon for a quick, cozy indoor or outdoor display.

“If you have a fireplace that no longer works or is not being used, the holidays are the perfect time to show it off. White birch logs, pillar candles or lights are a perfect way to make it cozy without the actual fire. Add some greenery to the mantel for the finishing touch.

“Solar lights are affordable, long-lasting and conveniently turn themselves on and off each day. Solar lights come in all shapes, sizes and colors, and the best part is they don’t add to the power bill.” — Luci Mosesso, WVU Extension 4-H agent, Pocahontas County

West Virginia University experts can provide commentary, insights and opinions on various news topics. Search for an expert by name, title, area of expertise, or college/school/department in the Experts Database at WVUToday



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