Succulent Living Wreaths

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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