You can have chestnuts roasting on an open fire and Jack Frost nipping at your nose, but what would the holidays be without a beautiful wreath to decorate the door? Maybe you want to put together a swag for the mantle or candle holder for the table. All of these traditional holiday decorations are easy and fun to make. They cost virtually nothing and make wonderful gifts for family, friends and neighbors, too.

Look outside your door for different shades of foliage and spent flower heads. You can make a stunning wreath yourself from most anything you find around your garden. You’ll be amazed at what you can find right outside your door.

Take advantage of this opportunity to prune your evergreen shrubs and trees to use in wreaths and swags. Cuttings from fir, redwoods, pine, holly, mahonia, strawberry tree, toyon and cotoneaster parneyi make fine additions to your wreath. Just don’t whack off snippets indiscriminately. To reveal the plant’s naturally handsome form, prune from the bottom up and from the inside out. Avoid ugly stubs by cutting back to the next largest branch or to the trunk. If the plant has grown too dense, selectively remove whole branches to allow more air and sunlight to reach into the plant. 

Some of the plant material that hold up well in a wreath include conifers like cypress, deodar cedar, redwood, arborvitae and fir. Broadleaf evergreens such as camellia, bottlebrush, variegated pittosporum, variegated holly, green holly, silver dollar eucalyptus, boxwood, oleander, acacia. melaleuca and abelia are also good. For color, try snippets of leptospermum Ruby Glow, leucodendron ‘Safari Sunset,’ camellia, rose buds and dry hydrangea flowers. Favorite berries are myrtus communis, texas privet, pepper berries, holly berries, nandina and Chinese pistache.

If you’re thinking of getting together with others in your bubble or pod to make wreaths or swags, start by having each bring a couple grocery bags of greens to share with other wreath makers. It helps if you can borrow a couple tables and have a few extra clippers on hand in case someone forgets theirs. Each person brings their own wreath frames of wire or grape vine and some thin gauge wire on a paddle to attach the bundles to the frame. Wire coat hangers work just fine, too.

Everyone makes a slightly different style wreath choosing greens, berries, seeds pods and hydrangea blooms or flower clusters of eucalyptus, acacia, pittosporum and Ruby Glow tea tree. Hollywood juniper, deodar cedar, red cedar, black pine, boxwood, camellia, oleander with long, slender seed pods and red flower buds, California bay, privet with berries and bottlebrush are just some of the plant material that I’ll be looking for this year.

Trust me, you can’t make a bad wreath. They all turn out beautiful. 


Jan Nelson, a landscape designer and California certified nursery professional, will answer questions about gardening in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Email her at [email protected], or visit jannelsonlandscapedesign.com.

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