Monday, September 21, 2015

DIY Living Wreath

I recently did a presentation on vertical gardens as part of a series of gardening classes offered by my local Master Gardener chapter. While preparing for this class, I researched the history of vertical gardening from grapevines and espalier trees to modern day hydroponic and bio walls. In current day gardening - sustainability, self sufficiency and growing your own food are among the top trends. However, there has also been a decreasing size of yards and garden plots. Growing up instead of out - just seems to make sense...

Advantages to vertical gardening:
  • Saves space - A traditional horizontal garden has boundaries and limitations. In a vertical garden - the sky's the limit to potential gardening space! 
  • Easier harvest - Usually at eye level instead of kneeling, bending, etc...
  • Healthier plants / Bigger harvest - Many plants are susceptible to soil borne diseases. Bringing the vines or plants up off the ground, decreases the risk of disease and improves the air circulation which contributes to a healthier plant and a larger bounty.

There are a lot of new vertical systems on the market - walls, stackable containers, hydroponic planters, etc... but I am more interested in the DIY versions.

A living wreath is unique way to display and grow plants on a vertical structure such as a door or fence. I've made and sold living wreaths for years at our local farmers' market and even though the wreaths look like a complicated gardening project, they're basically a container garden with a unique twist.

In previous years I made the wreaths out of a one piece wire form, a lot of sphagnum moss and floral wire. This technique took a lot of time and effort compared to using a 2 piece wire wreath frame that I demonstrate in the DIY steps below:

-2 piece wire living wreath frame (sold in my Etsy shop - Rebecca's Bird Gardens) I used a 10" frame in this tutorial. I sell a larger 14" frame in the shop.
-Sphagnum moss
-High qualify potting soil (optional)
-Sheer tights or pantyhose (optional)
-Plants - succulents, sedums, herbs, annual flowers, etc...

Step 1:
Soak the sphagnum moss in a tub of water for about 30 minutes.The moss retains a large amount of moisture (up to 10 times its weight). It also decomposes slowly - which means it won't need to be replaced, but only added to in following years.

Step 2: (optional)
Fill one leg of the sheer tights or pantyhose with moistened potting soil - spreading the soil evenly throughout the leg. (I cut the bottom out of a plastic pot and use this as a funnel to add the soil.) This "soil tube" adds a growing medium to the wreath. - The wreath can be made with only the sphagnum moss, but I've found that adding a soil component to the wreath can extend the life of the wreath and the success of the plants surviving.

Step 3:
Once the moss is thoroughly soaked, squeeze out as much water as possible and add a handful at a time into the wreath frame's sides and bottom - forming sort of a tunnel to place the soil tube.

Step 4: 
Add the optional "soil tube" and then add another layer of moss. Secure the second piece of the wire frame to the soil and moss filled base. Turn the wreath over and fill in gaps with more moss. (The moss will stay formed in place once dry).  If making this wreath without the soil tube, pack the moss into the wreath base tightly. - The plants will be planted directly into the moss.

Step 5:
Using a knife (I use a dandelion weeding tool), cut small slits through the "soil tube" and make holes to add small plants of your choice. Secure the plants in place with more moistened moss. Allow the wreath to stay horizontal for a couple of weeks until the roots of the young plants are established. I plant the wreaths that I sell with a variety of winter hardy sedums. My top sedum choices for living wreaths are:

Sedum spurium ‘John Creech’
Sedum kamtschaticum ‘Weihenstephaner Gold’
Sedum album var.  ‘Coral Carpet’
Sedum spurium ‘Fuldaglut’-‘Voodoo’-‘Dragon’s Blood’
Sedum hispanium ‘Blue Carpet’
Sedum acre ‘Aureum’-‘Miniature Stonecrop’
Sedum divergens 'Pacific Stonecrop'

Go to this link for additional info and photos of the sedums listed above: Sedum Varieties

To water the wreath - place it in a shallow tub such as a trashcan lid or wheelbarrow and soak in water for 30 minutes once or twice a week depending on how quickly the wreath dries out...

Even if perennial plants are used, I've found that this planter is more of a seasonal container garden. There isn't much protection from the elements even when using winter hardy plants. - This wreath can be planted with tender succulents and brought indoors during the colder months, but expect to replace and replenish spent plants to keep the wreath looking nice. The advantage of using a 2 piece frame is that it's reusable and easy to replant. After the initial investment of the wreath frame, this vertical garden can be a seasonal favorite or a year-round display!

My Etsy DIY Living Wreath Kit includes:
  • 2 piece 14" green vinyl - coated wire living wreath frame.
  • Large bag sphagnum moss. The  moss is from Canada and the Great Lakes. I’ve found that it works the best in living wreaths. - There is, however, straw and twigs in the mix sometimes…
  • DIY instructions to complete the wreath as described above.
  • Plants are not included.

Visit my Etsy shop at this link:

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  1. Thanks so much for sharing this awesome info! I am looking forward to see more posts by you!
    My Garden Post Vertical Gardening System

  2. I really Love the living wreath, definitely Will be making one. Thank you for this great post.


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