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Succulent Living Wreaths

I am very fortunate to work for an awesome garden where they let me explore all kinds of interesting planting ideas.  We have our very first fundraising gala event coming up in a few weeks and I’ve been hard at work creating some cool garden art pieces for the auction (which I’ll share in a future post).  I’ve been too busy DOING to be blogging but I hope there are still a few readers out there!

The theme of our Gala is, of course, sustainability.  I didn’t want to have table centerpieces that were cut arrangements that would be dead within a week of the event.  Instead, I wanted to do something that would live on long after the party was over- you know, to fit with the theme and all and because I am cheap. To that end, we decided to create living wreaths.

Now, this is a little more challenging here in Utah than, say, California as many of the BEST varieties of succulents are not winter hardy.  Not to mention the fact that it takes A LOT of cuttings (several hundred) to create even a single wreath and we needed to make 30+!

Armed with some great books, especially “Succulent Container Gardens” by Debra Lee Baldwin, some fearless volunteers and a whole lot of hope, we went to work.  I want to give special thanks to Debra for taking the time to work with me personally as I started down this road- I would never have dared without your advice and encouragement.

We had a special volunteer activity in the garden and managed to lightly plant about half of the wreaths.  In the weeks since that time, many hours have been spent completing the remainder and filling in the bare spots on all the wreaths.  My Dad has an incredible vegetable garden that’s fully netted with shade cloth and misters so he’s kept the wreaths and extra cuttings in his garden where they could be appropriately babied.  Both of my parents have helped me and we’ve spent many hours tediously adding cuttings to the wreaths while gossiping and enjoying the shade of their backyard arbor (is it any wonder I’m a gardener?) I’m so thankful for their help and support.

I would post a whole tutorial on creating living wreaths but there are already a bunch of good ones out there. The hardest part is having faith in the process!  After checking out all the various options, I settled on the following components:

Wreaths– 13″ moss-filled frames from Topiary Art Works.  You can buy inexpensive metal frames from the craft store and stuff them with moss if you want to stay local (or you’re just too excited to wait to get started) but the ones from the above vendor come densely packed and will hold together over time a lot better than the inexpensive craft store versions.

Focal Point Plants– Purchased small rooted plugs from Proven Winners (enough for 13 for each wreath).  If you want to attempt a wreath at home, you can simply purchase the smallest sized succulents (2″) from either J&J Garden Center in Layton or Cactus and Tropicals (their Sugarhouse location seems to have a better selection of succulents).  Surprisingly, both Lowes and Home Depot have a pretty good selection of succulents at times but are not as reliably stocked and cared for as plants at the independent stores.  If you want to go with all Utah-hardy plants, use Hens and Chicks (sempervivums) which can be found at nearly any nursery or in the yard of a willing giver.

Filler:I ordered 50 pounds of sedum cuttings from a grower that grows them for use in green roofs- and yes, it was a TON of cuttings!  To make one for your own purposes you can snip sedum cuttings from your own yard or from anyone who is willing to let you take some scissors to theirs!

NOTE: the wreaths that use just non-hardy succulents are prettier than ours (I think) but it would simply have been too cost prohibitive for us to have purchased all of the cuttings needed.  However, if you’re just making one for yourself, you could order cuttings from either DIGG Gardens (a super-fabulous-drool-worthy store) or Go Succulent (if Daniel has it up and going yet).  Just remember that they are NOT frost hardy and must come inside for the winter or die.  Hardy succulents can be purchased online from Simply Succulents.  I have purchased sempervivums from Simply Succulents and was quite impressed with the product and service.

Making the wreaths is simple if time consuming.  To begin, soak the wreath forms thoroughly and allow to drain for an hour or two if you can.  I made holes in the wreath with a sharp pencil and inserted the focal point plants then mooshed the moss back over them.  Once the major plants are placed, you infill with unrooted sedum cuttings.

Bad photo of the wreaths at the time of planting- the sedums are not yet rooted.

After making so many wreaths, we figured out a few things that can speed up the process.  You can use tweezers to help guide the cuttings into the holes.  In the beginning, I made a hole for each cutting and inserted it.  By wreath #27, I’d figured out that if I made a little bit larger hole, I could stuff about 10 cuttings in at once!  That cut the time down by about 2/3rds but we’ll have to see if the end product comes out as nicely- wreath #27 is 2 weeks behind wreath #1 in growing time.

Sample of how the wreaths look 6 weeks after planting- 2 more weeks of growing to go!

The scary part of making the wreaths is trusting that the cuttings will root.  I spoke so confidently about them being a fabulous idea that everyone believed it and we invested in a lot of plants to make it happen.  Secretly, I was a little worried since I’d never made one before! I am GREATLY RELIVED that I will not be falling on my face on this one!  Thank you reliable little sedums!

2 Months after planting the wreaths were full and gorgeous for the event!

To get the best results, water the wreaths daily while the plants are getting established and actively filling in.  The moss allows for the wreaths to dry out pretty quick outside so keep them in a semi-shady location. Once they are established, water them by placing the wreath on a tray and allowing the moss to wick the water up into the wreath.  If you hang it on the wall, make sure it’s dry before you hang it up again. I won’t say how often to water because it really depends on your house.  In our very dry climate, you might need to water as frequently as twice a week.  Less in winter.  As plants get leggy, just trim them back and re-root the trimmings.  Replace any plants that die with the trimmings you’ve removed from happier plants.

On the night of the Gala, these babies will be all decked out by an expert florist (which I am most assuredly NOT!) and fancied up with candles and hurricane glasses- and whatever else he comes up with!  I can’t wait to see them sparkling on the tables in the beautiful garden ready to enliven the gourmet “Farm to Table” dinner.  Hopefully attendees will be enchanted enough with the evening to buy the wreaths and keep them living in their own homes for many months or even years to come!

Thanks to all the volunteers (aka committee members, friends I managed to strongarm, and my parents who dream of the day I quit roping them into all my weird projects) who made it possible for us to pull this off.  Hopefully, we’ll even turn a profit for the garden from their labors!

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