Perhaps I'm a tad obsessed with succulents. So obsessed, in fact, that in the midst of the craziest time of the year--that insane space between Thanksgiving and Christmas, where we throw in a few family birthdays and parties just for added excitement--I spent two full days sequestered in the living room, working on my newest project: a succulent Christmas tree.
I'd been fantasizing about this tree since last Christmas. I anxiously waited for fall's succulent pumpkin decor to become passé so that I could strip the plants from the pumpkins and turn them into Christmas decorations.
Like all of my crafting attempts, my latest project involved many trips to the store, numerous ugly words, oodles of "The Gilmore Girls" episodes as background entertainment, and even a bit of bloodshed. Nothing says "Merry Christmas" like hands sliced with floral wire.
Fortunately, I have great faith that you are more talented and crafty than I am, so I'm certain you'll preplan better when creating your own succulent Christmas tree. Also, please wear gloves when working with the wire. Trust me. Your hands will thank you.
Tomato cage (I used the small, three-foot cage)
Long fiber sphagnum moss (I used six bags)
Container to soak moss
Long handled wooden spoon
Succulent cuttings (I used a combination of rosette-shaped succulents and trailing sedum cuttings)
Terra Cotta Pot and Saucer
Turn the tomato cage upside down. The ring will be the base of the tree.
Gather the legs of the cage together to form a point, and bend the wires together with pliers to secure. Wrap floral wire around the gathered legs to keep them together.
Make a netting of floral wire by wrapping it vertically around the wires of the tomato cage. After vertical wires are in place, weave the floral wire through them horizontally. This "netting" will provide support for the moss and help keep it in place in the tomato cage. You now have your tree form.
Fill a container with lukewarm water. Add the moss and soak it until fully saturated. Drain the water and squeeze out excess water from moss. You want damp moss, not drippy.
Add handfuls of moss into the form, filling it from the pointed top to bottom. Use a long handled wooded spoon to help fill the moss into all crevices. The goal is to fill the form completely--and also hide all of the wires. Once the form is filled, you can add bits of moss through the exterior of the form, tucking it in to help hide wires. When all moss is in place, weave the floral wire through the bottom opening of the tomato cage to make a "net"--weave it vertically, then add wire horizontally. You don't want the moss to spill out of the bottom.
Place the moss tree upright in a container. I used a large terra cotta pot with a saucer under it to catch water. (The moss may drip water, so protect your floor.) BE CAREFUL--the moss-filled tree is heavy! Make sure the form is balanced and doesn't tip before you begin working on the succulents.
Take a moment to decide the design of your tree. Based on the succulents I had available to use, I decided to place the rosettes is a diagonal design, wrapping around the tree, grouped by color. A great source for succulents is Simply Succulents. I ordered plants from them for our son's wedding rehearsal dinner, and they were beautiful, However, they don't ship in the winter. If you need plants now, check The Succulent Source on Etsy. Very good plants, plus for a small charge they'll include a heat pack to ensure your succulents don't freeze. You can order cuttings (which is what you'll want to use for this project), or they also sell potted plants. Prepare your cuttings by removing bottom leaves so that approximately 1/2" to 1" of stem is visible.
Using a pencil, poke a hole in the moss where you want to place your succulent cutting. Gently insert the stem into the moss and secure with a floral pin. Remember--succulents are fragile and their leaves can break. Handle with care! (If you have leaves break off, save them. I'll show you how to start new plants with them later this week!)
Continue poking holes, inserting cuttings, and pinning the succulents into place in the design you like until the form is well covered. For instance, I placed all of the rosettes first, then added a "garland" of sedum in between the rosettes to give it texture and cover more of moss.
If you have an unusually shaped succulent, use it as the tree topper. To secure the "star," I used both floral pins and floral wire to hold it on the narrow tree top.
Once your tree is complete, enlist someone to help you move it to its final place for display. Please. Don't try to do this alone. Being the impatient person that I am, I thought it would be a piece of cake to slide the tree into the foyer and lift it off the blanket I had placed under it to catch debris while I worked.
TIMBER! It was like a slow-motion scene of a movie. I could hear myself yelling "NOOOOOOO!" in a weird, drawn out, disaster movie voice.
Over it crashed.
Did I mention that succulents are fragile???
Fortunately, I only lost a few rosettes, but it took about an hour to replace and repair the damaged succulents.
I did, however, lose my original "star." Two arms broke off, making it a little less than festive.
Please. Get help. I beg you.
After the initial disaster, the tree is actually looking happy. The air in our house is fairly dry, so every day I give the tree a good spritz with a spray bottle, focusing on moistening the moss. It's positioned by the front window to catch some light to keep the plants healthy as well.
The best part of the project? After we put away all of the holiday decorations in January, I may keep this tree up all year.
Well, at least until I need to repurpose the succulents for my next obsessive project...
Have you created any gardening projects with succulents? If you have, please post a photo on my Garden Delights Facebook page. I'd love to see your project!
P.S. This post is a part of You Can Grow That!, a collaboration of garden writers who promote gardening and gardening education.