How to make your own living wreath

Follow these directions and make your own wreath

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TIME: One to two hours each

COST: $50 to $60 for a 14-inch wreath; $55 to $65 for an 18-inch wreath

TOOLS AND MATERIALS

• One 2-cubic-foot bag (or bale) sphagnum moss

• Bucket

• Thin rubber gloves

• Screen or perforated nursery tray

• 30-gallon trash bags

• Controlled-release fertilizer (high nitrogen for herbs and lettuces, a balanced fertilizer for strawberries)

• Water-absorbing polymers (such as Broadleaf P-4)

• One 1-cubic-foot bag potting soil

• One 14- or 18-inch living-wreath frame (or three floral box-wire frames of the same size)

• 80 to 95 feet of #24 copper wire (buy the larger amount if making your own frame), wound onto a spool or dowel

• Wire cutters

• Four skewers and four corks (for 14-inch wreaths with candleholders); or nine of each for an 18-inch wreath

• One chopstick or pair of long tweezers

• Seedlings

1. Soak the moss in a bucket of water until thoroughly wet (wear gloves when handling moss, which can irritate skin). Let moss drain for several hours on a screen or nursery tray, covered with plastic to prevent it from drying out.

2. While moss drains, cover a worktable with plastic. Mix fertilizers and polymers into the potting soil and set aside.

3. Place the moist moss in the center of the work area with the greener (top) side down. Spread the moss out to form a round mat about 2 1/2 times the diameter of the frame and 1 1/2 inches deep. Try to spread it out in one piece. Add moss to thin areas. Set aside extra moss.

4. Place the frame upside down in the middle of the moss mat. (If you are using frames without feet, fasten two together with wire to form a tube.) If you plan to hang the wreath, attach a loop of wire to a cross support at the top of the frame; for the lettuce or strawberry wreaths, which benefit from occasional rotations, add another hanger at the bottom.

5. If your frame has candleholders, mark their locations with skewers. Scoop the prepared soil mix into the frame so that no wire is exposed, and gently firm it down.

6. Lift the outside edges of the moss mat over the frame toward the center of the wreath. Start with a side flap, then pull over the opposite side, top, and bottom flaps (A). Make a hole in the center of the moss mat; lift the inside edges of the moss over the soil and frame without stretching it. Patch exposed areas with extra moss.

7. Leaving a 6- to 8-inch tail of wire at wreath top, wrap the moss-covered frame tightly with a continuous length of wire at 3/4-inch intervals (B). (If possible, ask a friend to help hold the moss in place while you wrap.) Along the way, patch any thin or broken spots in the lining with extra moss. If you need to take a break from wrapping, use an extra skewer to mark the wire's position. When you are back at the top, go one more time around the frame, then twist running wire and the tail together tightly. Cut the wire and curl the ends into the moss.

8. Turn the wreath right side up. If your frame has built-in candleholders, replace the skewers with corks. Using a chopstick or tweezers, make a hole through the moss into the soil on the inside edge. Remove a plant from its container and shake excess soil from around the roots or gently swirl the rootball in a bucket of water. Insert the roots deeply into the hole in the frame (C) and push the surrounding soil and moss around the roots and stem. Continue planting around the inside edge, then work outward, covering the frame with plants (D); see planting tips for each type of wreath. Remove the corks from candleholders.

9. Water the wreath well and set it in bright, indirect light for several days. Once the plants have acclimated, hang the wreath. If your frame does not have feet to distance it from the wall, add the third frame behind your wreath.

Wreath care

Display your wreath in full sun (light afternoon shade in hot inland areas).

Keep the soil moist but not soggy. Soak the wreath in the top of a clean trash can lid filled with water, letting it sit for 10 to 20 minutes or until it is thoroughly moist.

Cut off spent plants as needed, leaving their roots to hold the moss in place.

Replace plants as necessary. Make a ball of moist soil mixed with polymers and fertilizer; cover the ball with moss. Poke it into the empty spot; secure it in the wreath base with copper wire. Replant entire wreath when plants fade.

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