While many gardeners take pleasure in autumn, some of us fail to appreciate all that labor under bare trees in fading sunlight. We need a dash...

Share story

While many gardeners take pleasure in autumn, some of us fail to appreciate all that labor under bare trees in fading sunlight. We need a dash of immediate satisfaction along with the long-term duties of fall. That’s where a living wreath comes in.

Steve Keene and Inger Abdo of Swansons Nursery in Ballard suggest how to create a living wreath of moss and hardy succulents. Like a miniature alpine garden of gray-greens and limes, these wreaths are a kick to make, provide a lovely seasonal flourish and can last for years.

Keene and Abdo use several species of Sempervivum (commonly known as hens and chicks and houseleeks) and sedum in their wreaths. Sempervivum are most recognizable as tightly packed rosettes with thick leaves and little hairs that sometimes make them look like cacti. They can turn red, purple, yellow and other colors in the direct summer sun. Sedum are also succulents that often grow in mats or trail and are frequently used as ground covers and in rockeries. There are hundreds of sedum species, many of which have small leaves and seasonal flowers.

These succulents are also practically indestructible. They stand up equally to baking sun and frost. Because they have a shallow root system, they do well in the light soil of Keane and Abdo’s moss-core wreath described here.

Step 1

Line the bottom of a concave wreath frame with a layer of sphagnum moss, dirt side up, forming a small trench in the middle. The moss should be packed tightly, so you can’t poke through it with your fingers.

Tip: If the moss is dry, soak it before starting.

What you’ll need

×12-inch wire wreath frame

×Sphagnum moss

×Osmocote or other time-release fertilizer

×Six Sempervivum and sedum plants (4-inch pots)

×Nylon fishing line


×Greening pins or toothpicks (optional)

Step 2

Sprinkle a slow-release fertilizer, such as Osmocote pellets, along the bottom of the trench. Don’t use too much; Abdo says it’s like seasoning a dish with salt.

Tip: Succulent wreaths can last for years. If you need to add fertilizer in the future, create a hole in the moss with the eraser end of a pencil, and sprinkle in more pellets.

Step 3

Tear off a chunk of moss from your supply, and pack it into a ball a little smaller than a tennis ball. Then, nestle it into the trench. This will be a “spacer” between plants.

Step 4

Take one of your Sempervivum or sedum plants out of its plastic container, and gently dust most of the soil from the roots. Then, wrap more moss around the roots at the base of the plant, like a scarf. This will help hide the roots and the soil in your wreath.

Tip: This is also a good time to clean off any dead leaves.

Step 5

Nestle the plant up against the first moss spacer. Then, pack more moss together as a spacer and nestle it on the other side of the plant. Prepare another plant as in Step 4, and add it next to the second spacer. Repeat around the whole wreath, alternating plants and moss sections, until it’s filled. For a 12-inch frame, you’ll need about six plants.

Tip: If you want to create a table centerpiece to hold taper candles, use corks when creating your wreath to act as space-holders for candles.

Step 6

Use fishing line to hold the plants and moss in place. Begin by wrapping the line once around one side of the frame over a moss section. Knot it twice in back, and leave a long tail. Then wrap the roll-end of the line in a spiral around the entire circumference.

As you go, use the line to secure moss, stems between rosettes and leaves at the base of plants. Don’t cinch the line too tightly. Once you are back where you started, tie off the line to the tail and trim away any dangling line.

Tip: Look for bare spots as you wrap the wreath, and fill in with moss as needed. You can also use U-shaped greening pins to secure moss where necessary or toothpicks to hold large rosettes in place.

Step 7

For a manicured finish, trim away errant moss tendrils. After completing your wreath, keep it horizontal for a few days to a week before hanging it up.

Tip: Succulents need to be watered thoroughly. During hot, dry months, Abdo recommends soaking your wreath about once a week by leaving it in a saucer filled with water for up to an hour.

Lisa Wogan is a frequent contributor

to The Seattle Times: vietato@msn.com.