Green Living – How to Use Fresh Plant Material to Welcome the Season

Christmas_WreathHoliday decorating does not have to cost a lot of money or have a large carbon footprint, instead decorations can be found right outside ones door.  Natural plant material is a great choice for those who want a more nostalgic decoration or desire to reduce their consumerism by using what they have lying around their home.

There are three major types of decorations that can be created from live plant material.  This includes wreaths, swags, and centerpieces.  While other decorations do exist, the bases for these decorations are derived from the three listed previously.

The first step that all decorations start with is the collecting of the material.  All three types of decorations require filler, color and texture.  All of these requirements are met by what you harvest in your backyard and if you do not have enough, do not hesitate to ask a neighbor.  Pruning a neighbor’s plant material will not only help you, but will also reduce the amount of yard work your neighbor will have come spring.

Plant material can be broken down into three categories.  This includes background or base material, filler material, and special items of visual interest.  Background or base material is the material that creates the canvas for the decoration.  This includes holly leaves, ornamental grasses, boxwood, pine, cedar, and magnolia leaves.  Other plant material that is more unique that is used as a background includes lavender stems and flowers, sage leaves rosemary springs and clusters of oregano, thyme, and marjoram.

Filler material includes dried roses, rose hips, acorns, pinecones, small pomegranates, pyracantha berries along with magnolia seedpods and milkweed pods. Specials items of visual interest include the same things as described above, but with a special treatment.  This treatment can be glitter, paint, artificial snow or any other type of embellishment that highlights the natural material.

Once the materials have been gathered, it is time to begin creating one of the decorations.

Creating a Wreath

The process involved in creating a wreath starts with the form or base.  The form of the wreath can be purchased from a craft store.  Good choices for this type of wreath include straw or grapevine.  If you choose a straw wreath, do not forget to pick up some greening pins.  The only other type of material you will need regardless of the type of wreath you choose is a paddle of floral wire.

Another choice exists for a wreath form and that is one you create.  This can be done with grapevine, honeysuckle, climbing rose or rose canes.  To create a natural wreath form, cut material while it is green with hand pruners and bend into desired shape.  If you are having trouble forming a circle, bend the material around a bucket.  Let dry completely before moving on to the next step.

To add to the natural beauty of a handmade wreath, leave any tendrils dangling from the plant material.  This will add charm and a personal touch to your wreath.

Once all supplies have been gathered it is time to begin the creative process.  The first step is to create bunches of plant material that will be the background of your wreath.  This is done by creating small bundles of plant material and wiring it together at the bottom.  These bundles are then wired to the wreath form.  Continue this process until the wreath is covered.  Once this is done, take a look at your wreath and adjust the plant material where needed.  Keep in mind though, that you will need a few pockets of openness for the next layer of your design.

Once the background is finished, the next step is to fill in these open pockets with filler.  The filler is prepared the same as above.  After the filler has been added, pick up your wreath and again study your design and decide where you would like to add some visual interest.  This visual interest can be decorated or unique plant material or a bow.

After you have added all the elements of the wreath, run a wire around the top and form a loop for hanging.

Creating a Swag

To create a swag starts with the correct harvesting of the greens.  A swag utilizes not short clipping, but instead branches.  Once the branches have been harvested, the next step is to bring them indoors and prepare them for the next step.  The branch cutting will need to be completely hydrated and this is accomplished by smashing the end of the stems with a hammer and placing in a bucket of warm water.  Let the branches sit in the bucket overnight.

The next day the swag can be created.  The process of creating this swag starts with lining up two branches so that the cut ends face each other.  Adjust the length of each branch until you get the desired length.  This layer of the swag will be the longest.  Once you have the desired length, wire the two branches together.  Continue with this layering process by wiring shorter branches to the swag.  Once the swag is as full as you would like, the next step is to add accessories.

Accessories for a swag can consist of ribbon, natural material such as acorns, seedpods or berries, and even things like bells and holiday icons.  Once you have chosen your accessories, simply wire them to the center of your swag.

The last step is to form a loop by running wire around the back of the swag.  This loop is what will be used to hang the swag on the door or wall.

Creating a Centerpiece

A holiday centerpiece is a beautiful addition to any holiday table.  This type of arrangement in miniature can also show up on nightstands, end tables, mantles, and even bookshelves.

To begin the process of creating a centerpiece, first requires one not only to collect plant material, but also some floral supplies.  The simplest type of container to use is a vase that has had a homemade floral frog put on the top.  This floral frog is created by running strips of tape across the top in one direction and then repeating this process in the opposite direction.  This checkerboard design will help with the design process and hold the material up.

Another choice is using a traditional floral frog or creating your own container.  This is done by using a dish shaped container, floral foam, and floral tape.  To create your own container, one must first soak the floral foam in a bucket of water.  Push the foam down so that the water can soak all the way through the foam.  Once bubbles stop coming to the surface, the next step is to place it in the container.  If the foam is too big, simply cut the foam down with a sharp, household knife.

The next step is to secure the foam to the container.  This is done by running one piece of floral tape across the floral foam in one direction and secure to the container.  Repeat this process going in the opposite direction.

After the container has been prepared, the next step is to add the background material.  This is done by layering the material from the bottom edge of the container all the way to the top.  Each layer will be shorter than the previous one and should be placed into the foam on a horizontal plane.  This approach will create a fuller more professional looking arrangement.

Once the background material has been placed in the container, the next step is to place ones items of visual interest.  When doing this type of arrangement always use odd numbers.  If your arrangement is one that is circular, you will need to first place one item in the very top.  Next, place four items of interest in what appears to be the four corners of the arrangement.  The last layer consists of another four items that are placed in the opposite corners of the previous layer.  To aid in placing the corner pieces, view the arrangement from the top.

After this step is completed, add filler material where the arrangement is thin or needs to be highlighted.  Observe the arrangement after everything is in and prune back any greenery that is sticking out beyond the arrangement.  The last step is optional and that is the addition of a bow.

Regardless of the type of decoration you choose, the last step is to make it as fire retardant as possible.  While these decorations should never be placed near a fire source or heater, it is still a good idea to act proactive.  A simple homemade fire retardant can be made from 5 tablespoons of borax, 4 tablespoons Epsom salt and 2 quarts of water.  Mix all the ingredients together and place in a spray bottle.  Completely cover the greenery with this mixture and let dry before hanging.

Mindy McIntosh-Shetter has been an Agricultural Science educator, and is a horticulture and/or environmental blogger who earned a degree from Purdue University in Agriculture Education with a minor in biology, and natural resources. Presently she is finishing up her Masters in Environmental Education and Urban Planning for the University of Louisville while working on her own agriculture/environmental blog.

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