LSU AgCenter Horticulturist
Everyone has no doubt begun decorating for the holiday season. You’ve got your excited folks who started listening to Christmas music and threw up the decorations before the Thanksgiving holiday. (Hey, no judgement here.) Then you’ve got the folks like me who put the tree up the weekend after Thanksgiving. And some of us are busy and just getting around to it.
No matter what type of holiday decorating you do, there is one thing anyone can do very inexpensively by using what is just outside your door. You can create an evergreen wreath or swag with a few inexpensive floral materials and plant cuttings from the landscape.
The materials you will need to complete the project include fresh floral foam (3 inches by 4.25 inches by 3.25 inches) and a commercially made wire cage or one you create with a wire clothes hanger. You also need waterproof floral tape, 24-gauge wire (or similar) and 4-inch wire wood picks (optional). The tools you will need are pruning shears, wire cutters and a pocket knife or grafting knife.
Then you’ll need to gather an assortment of evergreen materials from the landscape. They could include cedar, camellia, evergreen wisteria, gardenia, holly, juniper, laurel bay, Leyland cypress, nandina, magnolia, mahonia, pine, pittosporum, sweet olive and wax myrtle. And don’t forget all the Christmas tree trimmings.
You also can go to a local nursery or box store selling fresh-cut Christmas trees and get the trimmings from such trees as blue spruce, Fraser fir, noble fir and Nordmann fir. These smell wonderful.
These plant materials offer several textures to incorporate into your wreath or swag.
Hollies such as American, Burford, English, Foster’s, Savannah, Winterberry and yaupon are excellent selections to help incorporate red berries. Another common landscape plant — nandina — also displays red berries in the winter time.
If you use a commercially prepared cage of fresh floral foam, you can get started right away. However, you can make your own by securing a wire hanger around a cube of fresh floral foam.
Add a water-impermeable material such as contact paper to the back of the foam to prevent water damage. Secure the backing and foam to the hanger using the waterproof tape in a tic-tac-toe pattern with two vertical lines and two horizontal lines encompassing the hanger and foam brick.
Hydrate the floral foam with water before beginning to add plant materials. This takes about 30 seconds. If you want your live cuttings to last longer, be sure to hydrate the foam several times a week.
Next, begin placing greenery in the foam. You can use longer materials in the top and bottom for a swag or place the greenery equally in a circular pattern for a wreath look.
At this point make a fresh cut on the stem of the greenery itself by using a utility knife to create a sharp point. Cut down the bottom half of only one side of the stem as if to whittle away the bark. Now, stick this into the foam. Or you can wrap the wire on a 4-inch pick around the bottom half of the stem for stability and stick the stem and pick together into the foam.
Longer pieces such as fir, Leyland cypress and pine are great to use on the top and bottom of the swag. Then use more pieces to fill in both sides of the foam. This creates the skeleton, so to speak.
Then you may begin to fill in the piece with a different textures such as magnolia, camellia and holly. Finally, install the “centerpiece” — typically something with red berries, pine cones or a festive bow. You can secure the pine cones and bow using the wired picks or lengths of wire by wrapping and twisting the wire through the cones’ scales or around the center of the bow.
Create a swag by elongating the design, making the top and bottom longer and the sides of the piece shorter. For a wreath look, keep all the plant materials similar in length along all sides. You may use the hanger to hang on the door or the grommets or holes already in place on the commercial foam.
Voila! You have a DIY wreath that cost next to nothing. I’ve seen designs that retail for $50 to $100. Save that money to do some Christmas shopping or share with someone in need this holiday season. Merry decorating. It’s a fun activity for all.
Homemade wreaths can add a festive welcome to a door. Photo by Heather Kirk-Ballard/LSU AgCenter
Creating holiday decorations from plant materials can be a family affair. Photo by Heather Kirk-Ballard/LSU AgCenter