A wreath is an attractive decoration for the holiday season. Making a wreath isn't as difficult as you might think. Follow these steps to create a holiday wreath using evergreen branches from your own yard.
Materials that are needed to construct a wreath include:
- pruning shears
- wreath frame
- No. 22 or 24-gauge florist wire on a roll (sometimes referred to as "paddle wire")
- wire cutter
- gloves (optional)
- evergreen branches (referred to as "greens")
- decorative materials, such as ribbons, bows, pine cones, ornamental fruits, and ornaments
When selecting a wreath frame, individuals can choose from several types. Box-style wire wreath frames, commonly available in 8- to 24-inch-diameter sizes, are the best type. For most gardeners, a 16-inch-diameter wreath frame is ideal for most home decorations. Frames, florist wire, and other materials can be purchased at craft or hobby stores.
Evergreen branches (greens) can be obtained from the home landscape. Trees and shrubs that you can obtain greens from include:
- false cypress (Chamaecyparis)
Carefully prune pieces just before they are needed from inconspicuous areas on the plant. A small amount of judicious pruning won't harm the trees and shrubs.
Greens may also be purchased from garden centers, florist shops, and Christmas tree lots or farms.
Additional decorative materials can be purchased or collected outdoors. This includes items such as:
- cones (the woody cones from pines are better than those of spruces or firs which eventually shatter apart)
- colorful twigs from dogwood or willow
- American bittersweet (not Oriental bittersweet)
- dried flowers such as hydrangea, purple coneflower heads, ornamental grasses, etc.
- colorful fruit from crabapples, viburnums, and other trees and shrubs
- ribbon and bows (bows made with wire-edged ribbon are easier to work with)
- battery-operated lights
- beads and garland
- many other decor items (you are limited only by your creativity!)
- Place the wreath frame on a table. It can be beneficial to cover the table with heavy paper or cardboard to make cleaning sticky sap easier.
- A sturdy, well-fitting pair of garden gloves can help protect hands from sharp needles and sap. There will be a lot of sap on tools, tables, and hands. Sometimes, it can be difficult to build a wreath with gloves on. If you choose not to wear gloves, wash your hands immediately after finishing with a soap that contains pumice. Using hand lotion just before starting can make getting the sap off your hands easier when you are finished.
- Wrap the end of the wire roll around the wreath frame to firmly attach the end of the wire roll to the frame.
- Cut the greens into 4- to 8-inch sections.
- Create a small bundle of greens by layering three or four evergreen sections on top of each other.
- Place a small bundle of greens on the frame and fasten the base of the twigs tightly to the frame with 2 or 3 turns of the wire around the frame and bundle of greens. Be sure to pull tightly to firmly attach the bundle and prevent pieces from coming loose as the wreath dries.
- Create a second bundle of greens much like the first. Each bundle can comprise the same type of greens or have something a little different. Often, it is best for every bundle to have one or two of the same species (like balsam fir or white pine) to serve as a "base." Each bundle can then be customized with one or two pieces of something different on top of this base. This provides some continuity to the wreath.
- Position the second bundle of greens to cover the cut ends of the first group and attach it firmly to the frame by wrapping the wire around the wreath frame. One continuous piece of wire can be used to wrap around each bundle as you work around the wreath frame. If the wire breaks, attach the broken end to the frame, then reattach the end of the wire roll to the frame and start again.
- Continue this procedure around the frame. Placing the bundles close together will produce a thick, full wreath but require much more material. Arranging them a little further apart will produce a much flatter, less-full-looking wreath that can still look good but requires less material.
- Tuck the base of the final bundle of greens beneath the foliage of the first group and fasten it to the frame.
- Decorate the wreath with a bow, cones, ornaments, etc. Wire each item separately and fasten it to the frame by feeding the wire through the greens and attaching it to the back of the wreath frame.
- Finally, attach a wire hanger to the top of the wreath frame. The wreath is now ready for hanging.
- When constructing wreaths, use only fresh greens. Needles on old material will be dry and brittle. Fresh material will have a strong fragrance and pliable needles.
- Most wreaths are constructed with the greens of several different species. Most colors and textures of evergreen species look good together, but a careful selection of greens with compatible colors and textures creates a highly stylized and professional-looking wreath.
- The branches you trim from the bottom of a cut tree are a great source of evergreen material for wreath construction.
- Make sure to create each bundle relatively equal in size. It's common for bundles to get larger as you build the wreath. This creates a lopsided wreath. To ensure each bundle is the same size, create one bundle of 3 to 4 evergreen pieces and lay it next to your working area. As you create each bundle, reference that bundle to ensure it is the same size. This "reference bundle" can be the last bundle you attach to the frame.
- When you are complete, if you notice any gaps or holes, attach cones, ornaments, bows, or other decorations to that area to help fill in or cover up the thin area.
- The strong evergreen fragrance of a wreath built from live cut greens has a special appeal. Strongly scented greens include juniper, pine, and Chamaecyparis. Spruce, fir, and yew are only lightly scented.
- When mounted on a door, use a small piece of wire to wrap around the nail or hook on the door to firmly attach the wreath and keep it from falling off when the door is opened or closed.
- The process to create live garlands with cut greens is the same, but instead of attaching each bundle to a wreath frame, attach them to a length of rope.
The ideal conditions for a fresh-cut wreath are cool and moist.
Care When Displayed Outside
- Outside in Iowa during the holidays the temperatures are typically low enough for fresh-cut wreaths or garlands to last from late November to early January, if not longer.
- Avoid windy locations. This moving air will strip valuable moisture from the boughs.
- If conditions are not ideal, you can treat the wreath with an anti-desiccant spray available at nurseries and garden centers to help “seal in” moisture. Apply according to directions at least a few hours before working with the wreath to avoid getting the spray on walls, hands, or clothes.
Care When Displayed Inside
- Fresh-cut wreaths and garlands typically last only 7-10 days indoors because of the dry air and warm temperatures.
- Avoid drafty locations and place them in areas out of direct sunlight. If possible, lower the temperature in the room and close any heat vents to prevent air from blowing on the wreath.
- Cut greens can be misted with water to add moisture, but this must be done regularly to have a measurable effect. You can also treat wreaths displayed indoors with an anti-desiccant spray.
- Indoor wreaths should be promptly removed when they become dry.
- The life of an indoor wreath can be prolonged by hanging it up only during special holiday occasions. Carefully place the wreath in a plastic bag and store it in a cool location, such as a garage, during the remaining time.
Once dried and brown or after the holiday season, discard your wreath by removing the greens from the frame. Cutting the wire from the frame around the back of the frame with a wire cutter is the easiest way to disassemble the wreath. The greens can be composted. The frame, ornaments, bows, and other decorations can be saved and used to create another wreath in the future.
Pathogens that cause plant diseases can move in mysterious ways. Holiday wreaths containing boxwood twigs and leaves as part of the decorations may be contaminated with the pathogen that causes boxwood blight and inadvertently sold to consumers.
Boxwoods in the Midwest and Great Plains can suffer from multiple diseases and abiotic (disorders) problems. Often, due to low temperatures and open winters with little snow, boxwoods in the landscape become prone to injury and other root and foliar diseases.
Before using or disposing of any holiday wreath with boxwood in it, inspect it for symptoms of diseases and signs (i.e., evidence) of disease-causing organisms. Avoid hanging wreaths with boxwood pieces near boxwood shrubs or pachysandra (spurge) in your yard. The boxwood blight fungus can easily move from contaminated wreaths to healthy plants.
If you suspect your holiday wreath is contaminated with Boxwood blight, contact the Plant and Insect Diagnostic Clinic.
When disposing of holiday wreaths that contain boxwood, burn them (if your locality allows) or place them in plastic bags and put them in the trash. DO NOT compost wreaths with boxwood pieces.
For more information on boxwood blight, see the article “Boxwood Lovers: Beware of the Blight,” this publication BP-203-W “Boxwood Blight or the Virginia Tech Boxwood Blight Task Force site. To learn more about boxwood blight in wreaths, see the Michigan State University article "Have a closer look at your boxwood wreaths this holiday season."