Step-by-step process on how to decorate a fresh Christmas wreath with foraged greenery, berries, and dried fruit. Also includes how to create a wreath base using willow
Fresh Christmas wreaths are a great way to use natural materials to create beautiful handmade holiday decorations. They’re an alternative to plastic or expensive fresh wreaths and are eco-friendly since they can be composted. For years my friend John ‘Dog’ Callister has been showing locals how to weave willow rings as wreath bases. He’s now graciously allowed me to share his instructions on how you can create your own at home and how to decorate a fresh Christmas wreath with foraged greenery.
You begin creating your fresh Christmas wreath with a circular base. You can purchase one ready-made or create your own using willow switches, grapevine, or other bendy and woody materials. In this piece, you’ll learn how to weave a simple willow ring to use as a wreath base, but feel free to use your own choice of base. Afterward, you decorate the rings with fresh foraged greenery, berries, dried fruit, spices, and ribbons. Decorating a fresh Christmas wreath requires very little in the way of materials and equipment, especially if you can use evergreen foliage from the garden.
How to make a Natural Christmas Wreath
- A Christmas wreath base, either purchased or handmade (instructions below)
- Fresh greenery from the garden: 6-12″ pieces of pine, cedar, fir, holly, ivy
- Florist wire, to attach the greenery
- Dried fruit, berries, pinecones, cinnamon sticks (optional)
- Ribbon and Christmas ornaments (optional)
- Secateurs/pruners to trim the foliage
If you’re cutting greenery and berries to use for your fresh Christmas wreath, get a good armful. You’ll need to trim pieces down as you use them and a little more is better than not enough. Use secateurs to cut pieces around six to twelve inches long. Also, don’t take all the greenery off one plant and wear gloves if you’re trimming prickly holly.
Decorate a Fresh Christmas Wreath
The starting point of any fresh Christmas wreath is the base. You can purchase them pre-made out of wire, dried grapevine, or other materials. You can also make one yourself with bendy sticks such as willow. There are instructions on how to do just that further below.
Once you have your base ready, you can start decorating it with greenery from the garden or from the florist. Begin with evergreen foliage, and tuck it in between the wires or sticks that make up the base. Each piece should be six to twelve inches long, and it looks nicer if you arrange them so that the pieces are overlapping and all pointing the same direction. Use pieces of florist wire to attach the centers of each piece to the base, if required.
Add more fresh greenery and decorations
Follow that first layer of greenery with another type of evergreen foliage, then add sprigs of berries, dried orange slices, and decorations. I find that if you bend a piece of florist wire in half, you create a kind of a bobby pin that makes it easy to pin decorations onto the wreath. It’s easy to poke through pieces of dried fruit, and around pinecones and cinnamon sticks. Use repeating and symmetrical patterns for the most attractive designs.
When you’re finished with decorating, lift the wreath up, and see if any pieces fall or sag. Use more florist wire to attach it to the base and attach a hook or loop of string at the back if you’d like to hang the wreath up. A word of caution: a fresh Christmas wreath will survive much longer when outside where it’s cold. Hang it from a door or gate or just prop it up on the doorstep. Indoors it won’t last as long and the warmth will dry the foliage up and make a mess as it falls to the floor.
Using Willow to Make the Wreath Base
Making a willow Christmas wreath base requires very little in the way of materials and equipment. It will take you only about an hour to complete, start to finish. You’ll need five to ten lengths of fresh, or freshly soaked willow switches that are about 5-6′ long and 1/4″-1/2″ in diameter. They need to be bendy so that you can twist them into shape without snapping them.
There are many types of willow and they come in a wide range of colors and textures. You can choose any of them for this project and it’s up to you, your preference, and what you have available. You can find willow that’s deep red and shiny, dusky green-grey, or even matte black.
If you can’t source willow and greenery from your own land, you might be able to find them at a local florist or tree surgeon. Another idea is to get in touch with local farms and the stallholders at Farmers Markets. Even if there isn’t any for sale at the stall, it is more than likely that you’ll be able to find a course through the resourceful folks at the market.
Make the Willow Wreath Base
You can decorate a fresh Christmas wreath in half an hour or so. To make a willow ring as a wreath base will take another hour. It’s fairly simple though once you get the hang of it but if you find it difficult to understand the instructions, watch the video below.
You begin by taking one of your willow switches and gently bend it to train it to want to go in a circular shape. Be gentle when ‘taking the Spite’ out of it, as it’s called since you don’t want the willow to break or kink. Twist your switch into a circular shape just over twelve inches in diameter, or really as large as you’d like to go. The trick here is to twist from the end of the thicker part so that the extra willow that’s left hanging outside of the circular shape is thinner and more pliable.
Weaving the Willow Ring
Holding the willow in the circle-shape, take the long, thinner end of the switch and weave it around the shape. You do this by reaching your arm through the center of the ring and grabbing the very end. Pull it through the center of the ring, then repeat, reaching through the center to grab the end. If you try to pull from other parts of the wood then it’s possible the switch will bend or kink.
Threading the end of that willow switch this way will naturally twist it and create a sturdy circle. You will likely have extra willow that won’t tuck into the frame at the end. Don’t worry about this and just let it stick out for the time being. You’ll trim all excess willow at the end.
Weaving the second switch on
Take the thicker end of a second willow switch and anchor it six inches back from the end of the first. By anchor, I mean placing it along the bottom edge of the ring by inserting it from the front. Hold at end of the new switch in place with one hand, then reach through the ring with your other and grab the thin end of the new switch. Pull it back through the ring. Continue this pattern all around the wreath until nothing more can be pulled through. The willow switches spiral around each other and this design creates a very sturdy wreath base that will last for years.
Keep adding more switches
Repeat the previous step with many or as few willow pieces as you’d like. For reference, the wreath ring in the photos is made from eight willow switches. When you’re happy with how thick the ring is, use your secateurs/pruners to trim off any pieces sticking out. Make cuts at an angle so as to avoid chunky, blunt ends. Next, wrap the entire willow ring with string to both hold it in place and to tuck your decorations into. I’d recommend keeping the string on the ring indefinitely.
I have several willow rings now and some of them are six or seven years old now. The wood on all of them has turned medium to dark brown and over the years they do loosen a bit as the wood dries out. Keeping string wound around them keeps the wreaths in one piece, and ready to be decorated the next year.
Now that you’re finished with making your ring, you might be interested in trying a more advanced willow weaving project. If you have around a hundred pieces of willow, you could make a stunning willow basket. John Dog shows how to make one step-by-step over here.