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Wreaths: Growing in Circles

Photography: Ngoc Minh Ngo

Source: Martha Stewart Living, December 2007


They're no longer just one-season adornments for your Yuletide front door, ready-made and ready to discard. These days, wreaths can live throughout the year: growing, colorful orbs that bring textural richness to a bland entrance hall and a welcoming cheer to doorways and garden gates.

Ancient civilizations used wreaths, symbols of unbroken time, to celebrate occasions such as an Olympic victory, a military triumph, or a declaration of love. They were creative in their materials -- using myrtle, ivy, even celery -- and there is no reason you shouldn't be as well. These wreaths are made of succulents, cacti, mosses, evergreens, and ferns, but any plant that grows slowly or has small leaves will work well (miniature plants are particularly suited for use in living wreaths). So go ahead and start thinking outside of the pine-branch box.

Rotating Displays
The wreath below is made of lemon button fern and two types of maidenhair fern. The three varieties were planted in the same order around the entire wreath, giving it a uniform rhythm.

In a wreath designed for a garden gate, below, trailing sedum weaves in and out of a colony of rosy-edged sempervivum. Because sempervivum is slow to root, this wreath needs to be placed on a horizontal surface -- with its soil kept evenly moist -- for several weeks before hanging. Come summer, use it as a centerpiece.

Exposure to Light
If you will be hanging a wreath outdoors, gradually expose it to more sunlight over a week's time. The moss wreath thrives in dappled shade. The succulent and evergreen wreaths need to receive several hours of sunlight each day. The Christmas cactus wreath and the fern wreath should remain indoors during winter. Christmas cacti require a well-lighted area, and ferns need a humid environment.

Sweet Treat
A vibrant ring of Christmas cacti rests on a cake stand, ready to welcome guests. Once the flowers fade, prune the plants by pinching off a few sections of each stem with your fingers or a knife. More branches will grow, and thus more blooms will appear next holiday season.

A Fresh Spin
Chamaecyparis, white spruce, and two varieties of juniper make a wild and woolly evergreen wreath. The lime-green juniper develops a ruddy glow as the days grow shorter, adding a touch of color and cheer. This wreath requires at least six hours of sunlight each day. While some of these plants are dwarf varieties, even full-size plants will stay small when planted in a wreath.

Wreath Building
Affix a length of sturdy wire to the outermost ring of the wreath form if a chain for hanging isn't included.

Tools and Materials
1 concave wire box wreath form (8 to 24 inches) with lid, 2 concave living-wreath forms, or 1 tubular wreath form
Spray mister filled with water
Enough sheet moss to cover the back of the wreath, plus more to fill gaps between plants
Slow-release fertilizer
5-pound bag of lightweight potting-soil mix
Small-leafed or dwarf plants
Gardening shears or scissors
Floral pins (optional)

Wreath Building How-To
1. If you're using a wreath form with a lid, attach the lid. If you're using 2 concave living-wreath forms, wire them securely together to form a doughnut shape similar to the tubular form, shown below.

2. Tie a spool of monofilament to the outside ring of the form. Mist sheet moss until it becomes pliable. Cover the back of the form with pieces of sheet moss to form a bed.

3. Secure the moss by wrapping the monofilament around the form's back and through the center of the doughnut.

4. Add fertilizer to potting soil, and then place the mixture within the moss bed. Begin placing the plants within the frame according to the look you want. (The ferns shown here were planted in a repeating pattern, whereas those in the evergreen wreath on the previous page were carefully placed to create an asymmetrical yet balanced look.) For larger plants, you may need to loosen the roots and then flatten them with your palm. Fit the plants snugly together.

5. Cover the roots and any gaps with more potting-soil mixture. Add a layer of moss on top. Secure all plants by wrapping the form in monofilament (if you're making a moss wreath, the moss will eventually grow over the monofilament). Tie monofilament to wreath form to secure, and trim end. Tack down loose stems with floral pins if necessary.

6. Fill a large tub with water, and soak the wreath for 10 minutes. Drain before hanging.

Wreath Watering
Sheet moss dries out extremely quickly, especially outdoors, so be vigilant about watering, by soaking the wreath (see step 6). Misting or spraying is not recommended because it forces the plant roots to reach for the surface of the wreath. To encourage uniform growth, turn the wreath occasionally. Prune the plants when needed to maintain the wreath's shape.

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