Perfect gift: A living wreath

A living wreath made with hardy succulents makes a great gift for anyone, anytime, and it will last for years, given a little TLC.

You can buy a wreath - if you can find them - at high-end nurseries and boutiquey garden centers for anywhere from $65 to well over $100. Or, you can make one yourself for very little cash investment and some of your time. Handmade gifts, especially ones as pretty as wreathes, really show you care. Holly made a 12-incher for less than $20 in about an hour.

Note: You'll want to get started pretty soon if this is going to be a holiday gift, because the succulent cuttings will need a few days to scab over before you insert them into the wreath and then more time to begin rooting in the wreath. You can still make one at the last minute, but present your gift flat, on a piece of cardboard or a pretty platter, until the cuttings have stabilized.

Once the succulents have rooted in well, these wreaths can be hung on a wall, or used as table centerpieces. Give them a gentle misting now and then and about once a month, gently dip the whole wreath in water to completely hydrate the moss and soil. Succulents are hardy plants, but if you hang the wreath outside, put it in a sheltered spot with filtered sunlight.

What you'll need:

1 bag (820 cubic inches) of sphagnum moss
2 12-inch wire wreath frames
electrical tape or small twist-ties
Lightweight potting mix (I used about half of a 4-quart bag of cactus mix, which is great for succulents)
Greening pins, also called topiary pins (sold at craft supply stores; they look like old-fashioned hairpins)
Paddle wire
About three dozen small succulent cuttings (mine all came from existing succulents in my garden; you could gather some from a friend or neighbor - but ask first!)
Chopstick, screwdriver or pencil

Spread a piece of plastic or a garbage bag over your work table. Squeeze out the moss and place it in clumps in a circle roughly 20 inches in diameter. Keep adding clumps of the moss until you have a dense "pancake" that's uniformly about an inch thick.

Connect the outer rims of the two wire wreath frames, flat sides together, using bits of the electrical tape (you also can connect them using twist-ties or your paddle wire). Place the joined wreath frame in the center of your "pancake" of moss.

Using a trowel or large spoon, begin adding the potting mix into the circle of the wreath frame. What you're going to be doing here is making a big "burrito," with the moss wrapping the soil inside the frame.

Begin attaching the moss to the frame, using the greening pins. You will use a lot of the pins. Once you've done the perimeter of the frame, make a hole in the center of the moss "pancake" and begin pulling up the moss and pinning that to the frame.

Slip the end of the paddle wire under the wreath and pull the end through the center of the wreath. Give it a few turns to secure, then begin wrapping the wreath with the wire at about one-inch intervals - over-and-under, over-and-under - until you have wrapped the entire wreath. This is easier with two pairs of hands, so you might enlist a helper for this part.

Begin inserting the succulent cuttings into the wreath, using your chopstick to poke into the moss. Nestle the cuttings into the holes. Larger cuttings may need securing with more of the greening pins.

Holly Hayes is the garden writer for our media partner, The San Jose Mercury News.

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