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Living wreaths; you can make the ones here and on our cover with succulents, ivy, or blooming plants.

Prolonging the season's cheer with their enduring beauty, these living wreaths-of succulents, or ivy accented with blooming plants make elegant gifts. The door hangings, suspended candelabra, and centerpiece shown here and on the following pages all began with circular wire frames, lined with sphagnum moss and filled with soil. From there, each wreath took a slightly different form. Materials for wreath making Wire wreath frames (sold in craft and floral supply stores) commonly range from 10 to 18 inches in outside diameter and cost $1 to $2. Buy two frames for each succulent wreath, one for each ivy. You'll also need packaged sphagnum moss (I to 2 cubic feet, depending on wreath size), and potting soil (4 to 5 cups for either the large or the small ivy wreath and at least 1 2 cups for the succulent wreath enough to pack frames tightly). To decorate the wreath, you'll need plants, 24-gauge wire, a pencil, a chopstick, florist's pins, wire cutters, large culinary or medical tweezers (for succulent wreaths). Also buy hardware for hanging. The suspended candelabra requires four spiked candle holders, five S-hooks, and four lengths of chandelier chain. Prepare the work area by spreading a plastic drop-cloth or newspapers over a tabletop. Soak sphagnum moss in a bucket of water for an hour or two. While it's soaking, in another bucket mix standard potting soil with water. For succulent wreaths, the soil should be wet; for ivy wreaths, it should be moist but not soggy. Succulent wreaths We learned this wreath-making technique from volunteers at Quail Botanical Gardens in Encinitas, California, who make and sell wreaths to benefit the gardens. Succulents common in home gardens can be used. If you don't have a succulent garden, perhaps you can ask to snip cuttings from your neighbors', or order cuttings by mail (see below). The wreath on page 66 required about 200 cuttings. Practically any small-leafed succulent will do. Using a sharp pruner, take tip cuttings 2 to 3 inches long (step I on page 66). Pinch off the bottom leaves, leaving a 1- to 2-inch stem. For best results, allow the cut ends to callus (form a thin pale brown skin) by drying cuttings in open air, out of direct sun. This takes a few days to a few weeks, depending on the species and weather. Steps 2 through 6 outline wreath-making basics. For ease in seeing and maneuvering the wreath as you work, place it on an inverted 5-gallon bucket. Covering the wreath with succulents will probably take several hours. Set plants as close together as possible. For interest, vary the colors and textures and add accents. Use large tweezers to squeeze plants into tight spaces, and florist's pins to secure loose cuttings. Push pins in with the eraser end of a pencil. To make a candelabra like the one designed by Teddy Colbert and pictured on page 67, use S-hooks to attach four pieces of chandelier chain to the wreath frame before planting, and insert four spiked candle holders into the soil. To plant, elevate the wreath on an inverted bucket, or suspend it from the chains (a fifth S-hook joins chains at top). Consider adding cascading succulents after the wreath is suspended. You can buy a ready-made candelabra frame and hardware, succulent cuttings, and other supplies-by mail only-from Teddy Colbert's Garden, 2210 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 187, Santa Monica, Calif. 90403. Send a stamped, self-addressed envelope for price list. Ivy and kalanchoe centerpiece The centerpiece pictured above right uses a 12-inch frame. It contains three 4-inch pots of a small-leaved variegated ivy and three 4-inch pots of kalanchoe, available at garden centers, nurseries, and florists. Line the inside of the frame with a 1/2-inch layer of wet moss. Pack it tightly as you move around the frame, and extend it 3 to 4 inches beyond the frame on both sides. Remove ivy from containers and squeeze plants into the frame, spacing them evenly (step 1, above). Repeat with the kalanchoes, placing them between the ivy plants. Fill in any holes with moistened potting soil. The soil and plants will extend above the top edge of the frame. Fold moss, gently wrapping it around plants to cover soil surface (step 2). Attach loose end of a spool of wire to the wreath frame, leaving a tail several inches long. Wrap wire tightly around wreath at 2- to 3-inch intervals, working carefully around stems and leaves. Join the last coil with the tail by twisting them together, then cut the wire. Arrange the stems of ivy to fill gaps, and, if necessary, tack them in place with florist's pins. Ivy and African violet wreath The wreath above left was made with a 10-inch frame, five sixpacks of small-leaved ivy, and five pots of miniature African violets. Follow steps I and 2 on facing page, using ivy only. When the basic ivy wreath is complete, use a chopstick or pencil to poke holes large enough to hold the pots of violets (step 3). Wreath maintenance Living wreaths are miniature container gardens. To thrive they need water, light, and occasionally fertilizer. To water, place in a tub of water, or slowly sprinkle tops and let water percolate through soil. Soil in ivy wreaths should remain moist to the touch. Check African violet pots daily. Succulent ones need water infrequently; if you squeeze the wreath and it gives," it's moist enough. Feed ivy wreaths monthly with liquid fertilizer; succulent ones won't need fertilizer until their second year. Succulent wreaths take root about two weeks after planting and will then begin putting on top growth. When plants grow too large, either snip them back to one or two leaves (plants will regrow) or pull them out. The wreaths benefit from air circulation; place an empty frame between them and the surface supporting them. For even growth, rotate centerpieces and candelabra regularly; a swivel hook attached to the candelabra's top Shook makes it easy to rotate. After the holidays, choose a location for your wreath as you would if the plants were growing in an ordinary container. The wreaths we describe here, except the one that includes African violets, can stay outside all year in mild-winter areas.
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Copyright 1990 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:Sunset
Date:Dec 1, 1990
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