An easy-to-make garland might be just what you need to spruce up your front entrance before your holiday company arrives. It just so happens that December is an ideal time to prune conifers such as pines, cedars and junipers, as well as broadleaf evergreens such as holly, cherry laurel, ligustrum, boxwood, magnolia, yew and pittosporum. Instead of throwing away what you prune from these plants, use them to make festive garlands.
There are many ways to make garlands. Here are three techniques I have found are not difficult and work well. Really, even if you are “crafts challenged” like me, these are not hard to do and look great.
Wire branches together
Cut branches that have lots of foliage into 12- to 18-inch lengths.
Lay the first piece down. Lay the second piece overlapping the first piece by one-third to one-half its length.
Securely wire the branches together where they overlap.
Continue to add more branches until you have the length of garland you want. Make sure you overlap the branches enough to create a full effect and you wire them together securely. If needed, wire more branches into spots that need more fullness and use more wire on connections that do not seem secure.
Wire branches to a rope
Use the same procedure as above except lay the branches on a rope. A black or dark green nylon rope works well and will be less noticeable than a lighter-colored rope.
When you wire the overlapped branches together, wire them to the rope at the same time.
The rope adds increased strength to the garland and can help it drape more attractively.
Make a chicken wire base
Lay out a piece of chicken wire 8 to 12 inches wide and as long as you want the garland to be or in sections that can be assembled together.
Roll up the chicken wire into a fairly tight tube lengthwise.
Cut leafy branches into 6- to 8-inch pieces.
Insert the ends of the branches into the rolled chicken wire. They will often hold well as is, but you can attach them with wire to the chicken wire if they seem loose.
Be sure to overlap the branches enough to create a full effect.
Garlands made with chicken wire bases may be bent into a variety of shapes, such as curls, arches or even letters.
Now for the garnish
If you want to add lights to your garland, it’s a good idea to do it at this point. It’s best to weave the lights into the garland before you add other decorations to it. If the garland will be displayed outside, make sure you use outdoor lights, and use outdoor extension cords if needed.
Brighten your garland by wiring colorful berries into it. Good choices include red holly berries, orange pyracantha berries, white tallow tree seeds or purple American beautyberry fruit, to name a few.
Some or all of the foliage inserted into the garland could be gilded (covered with gold) before the garland is assembled. This is not at all difficult and the results are spectacular.
To gild foliage, spray it with one or two light, even coats of good-quality gold spray paint, holding the can 6 to 8 inches away from the leaves. Wear latex gloves to keep your fingers clean, and hold the branch in your hand, rotating it to get even coverage. The gilding keeps the foliage attractive throughout the holiday season and is especially recommended for garlands that will be hung indoors.
Good foliage to gild should be thick and hold its shape well, such as magnolia, holly, pine, fir, juniper, palm fronds, boxwood and live oak. Magnolia foliage is perhaps the most beautiful gilded plant material.
Any type of seed pod can be gilded and then wired into the garland. Look for magnolia cones and pinecones, crape myrtle seed pods, sweet gum balls, tallow tree seeds, lotus seed pods, acorns, pecans (these can be glued into clusters with other nuts) and many others you can find in your yard or along roadsides. These also could be left natural.
Run a 6- to 12-inch piece of thin wire through fruit, such as apples, oranges, lemons and pears, and wire them on. Add a bit of shine to them by polishing them with mineral oil.
Don’t forget, you can also add colorful ribbons and bows, Christmas ornaments and even small wrapped packages if you like.
During cool, moist December weather, garlands made out of fresh greenery should stay attractive for about a couple of weeks. They will last longer if they are hanging in a shady spot (direct sun warms the foliage and dries it out). You may also mist or spray the garland with water every day or so to lengthen its attractive life, as long as this does not bother the decorations. This is not needed or recommended for a gilded garland.
Indoors, fresh garlands will not last as long. Locate them away from heat sources, such as fire places and heat vents to keep them from drying out too quickly.
Dan Gill is a horticulturist with the LSU AgCenter. He can be reached at DGill@agcenter.lsu.edu