Deck the house: Easy-to-make Christmas wreaths, swags and garlands

Carefully pruned sections of evergreen make a cheerful table swag when bound together and topped with bright ornaments. (Special to the Democrat-Gazette/Janet B. Carson)

Some people start putting up Christmas decorations as soon as Halloween has ended, while others are just now getting started. If you want to spruce up your house — inside and out — look no farther than your own yard.

If you have checked the tags on fresh wreaths or greenery at local stores, you know the prices have definitely gone up. Meanwhile, homemade wreaths, swags and garlands are easier to make than you might think.

If you have evergreen shrubs, magnolias, pine trees, Eastern red cedar or other conifer plants, you can take cuttings, use a pre-formed frame or even a coat hanger and make some unique decorations.

The key when cutting greenery from the landscape is to cut it in such a way that your plants don't look butchered or damaged. You can make judicious cuts here and there, without anyone noticing.

Cut, fresh greenery usually lasts about two weeks inside the home before it dries out and starts to shed. If you use it to decorate outdoors, it will last much longer. Indoor heat is extremely drying.

If you will be entertaining, try to cut the greenery as close to the event as possible, for the freshest look and the best scent.

Placement precautions:

◼️ Avoid placing your fresh green decorations in high-traffic areas where the greenery could be bumped, causing the needles to shed.

◼️ Don't place them in direct sunlight or where a heating vent will blow directly on them.

◼️ Make sure no open flames come in contact with any cut greenery.

Depending on where the decorations are placed, you could spritz them with water using a mister a couple of times a day to help keep them fresh.


The most common shrubs that are used in garlands, wreaths and swags are hollies and boxwoods, but Elaeagnus, nandina, aucuba, Ligustrum, arborvitae and junipers are all great additions.

Really, anything with green leaves is an option. If you have an abundance of English ivy, it makes a great base for wreaths or garlands. And a wreath of just magnolia leaves is simple and elegant.

Some designers add a preservative in the water that greenery sections can be soaked in while waiting to be shaped into decorations -- to help keep the greenery fresh longer. You can soak your cut greenery in a solution of glycerin and water before shaping the decorations, or use one of the various other preservatives on the market, but start with fresh greenery, and don't expect it to last forever.

Fresh green decorations can be as simple as putting a "bouquet" of stems into a vase of water and tying a bow around it. Slipping in some branches with berries adds to the display.

You can also buy a few inexpensive "picks" of colorful bling to stick in among the fresh greenery, or you can attach small ornaments to the stems.

  photo  Live succulents look great in a wreath, but make sure to use outdoor succulents for outdoors and houseplant succulents indoors. (Special to the Democrat-Gazette/Janet B. Carson)

For a wreath, there are a myriad of wreath frames available at hobby stores. Some are simple wire frames, while others come with green or colored fake branches that easily twist and will hold the added greenery.

You can also bend a wire coat hanger into a circle and attach your greenery around that with florist wire and florist tape, inexpensive and easily found.

Once you get the base of greenery in place, start adding to it. You can use strings of popcorn, tinsel, sprigs of fresh berries, small pine cones and even dried hydrangea blossoms or other dried flowers from the garden.

Plumes of ornamental grasses can add an interesting touch.

You can spray-paint small deciduous branches or dried flowers and seed heads to add even more color.

You can even make a living wreath with succulents -- but know whether the succulent is for indoor or outdoor use. Different succulents have different levels of winter hardiness.

Work with what you have to create your own masterpiece.

  photo  Store-bought additions add bling to freshly cut boughs, and velvety red ribbon will hide the wire and tape holding everything together. (Special to the Democrat-Gazette/Janet B. Carson)

If you think a wreath is too much to tackle, consider a simple swag. Harvest a variety of branches, fan them out to your liking, then wrap the stems with duct tape to hold them in place. Add some wire to hang them with. Attach a bow to cover up the duct tape, and you have a simple but elegant door decoration.

If you already have outdoor containers or plantings for winter interest, you can hang a few ornaments on them or attach holiday garden art to make them more festive.

You don't have to be a master florist to create unique and creative arrangements from your yard — for any season. Just make sure that the plants you are cutting from still look attractive after you have done your pruning.

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