How about some handmade decorating for the holidays? Making your own wreaths and swags is all about fun – from start to finish – and it’s a project that your entire family can do together. Creating a themed wreath is always a big hit with the kids, or maybe a more traditional look would work best in your home. Whatever you decide, once you build your evergreen frame, the sky’s the limit on how to personalize it. So let’s roll up our sleeves and get started. (I can smell fresh cut balsam already!)

Decorated Wreath

Gold ornaments, cones and the right bow turn any wreath into an elegant holiday decoration.

Photo Credit: Donna W. Moramarco

Ready Your Greens

Cut greens should be 6-8 inches long with the bottom 2 inches of needles stripped.

Photo Credit: Donna W. Moramarco

Cut Swag

Once you have the greens and cones in place, hang the swag to make sure it’s full and even. All this one needs now is a festive bow in the center!

Photo Credit: Donna W. Moramarco

Wire the Greens

Use a spool of wire to secure cut greens to the wreath. (Remember to wrap the wire between bundles and pull tightly!)

Photo Credit: Donna W. Moramarco

Add a Bow

Top your creation off with a bow!

Photo Credit: Donna W. Moramarco

Selecting the right evergreen materials for your wreath is an important first step, because some plant mate¬rials hold up better under warm, indoor temperatures than others. Douglas, Fraser and Balsam firs; Austrian, white and Scotch pines; and Japanese yew are better suited to indoor conditions. Generally speaking, the different spruces are not able to tolerate warm indoor temps, even with water. (And who wants all those dried-out, messy needles on the floor?)

Another plant to consider using in wreaths and swags is English holly (Ilex aquifolium). This beauty is widely used because of its glossy, deep green leaves. The traditional red berries are another added feature. (Be on the lookout for yellow-berried holly forms for something a little different this season!) The Oregon grape holly (Mahonia aquifolium) can also be used as a substitute for English holly. American holly (Ilex opaca) is generally not used because of its dull leaf color and the rapidity in which the leaves dry out.

English ivy (Hedera helix) can really jazz up many holiday decorations, too. Its glossy, deep green leaves and trailing habit make the plant ideal for use in centerpieces and door swags. Variegated euonymus (Euonymus) can also be used because of the variations in color. If you hunt around your outside landscape, I’m sure you’ll find a number of suitable materials that can be used. Experiment with different materials until you find a combination that suits your decorating style. (And remember to take pictures!)

Door Swags

Door swags are a welcoming sight at anyone’s door, inside or out. They’re quick, easy and fun to make.


  • Three full boughs of an evergreen (fir, pine, yew or a combination of these)
  • Wire (at least a 16- to 18-inch length for each swag)
  • Ribbon or premade bows


  1. Strip 3-4 inches of the needles off the ends of each bough. Arrange boughs in the shape of your door frame (with the largest and fullest on the ends and the smaller in the middle).
  2. Tie boughs securely together with a piece of wire. (Remember, those boughs are heavy, so tie them tightly!)
  3. Use a premade bow, or make your own with your ribbon of choice. Place the bow over the area of the bare bough stems (where you stripped off the needles), then use wire to secure the bow in place. Make a loop with the remaining wire to use for hanging your swag. Any showing bough stubs can be removed with sharp pruning shears. Let your ribbon hang down over the boughs, and hang the swag on a door or wall with a nail, hook or a wreath hanger that slips over the top of a door.


Wreaths have always been a big part of my Christmas decorating. For many years, my dad made a 6-foot-diameter wreath to go over my fireplace mantle. He always mixed up the plant material (much of it unique) from year to year. My horticultural friends adored his annual creation because it was like a plant quiz when they came to visit. One year he secured dried lotus pods to the wreath. Another year he used pinecones he had collected in Oregon. One thing for sure, he always added berries, rose hips and cones. My contribution was a large, red bow. Each wreath he made was incredible – and they lasted for months because he always used fresh cut material. I hated to take them down at the end of the season, but I lovingly added them to my compost pile.

Make your own wreath unique with hand-selected decorations.


  • Evergreens
  • Wire ring or coat hanger
  • Spool of florist’s wire
  • Ribbon, cones, nuts, berries, pods, ornaments, etc. (for decorations)


  1. Cut pieces of evergreens with pruning shears – pieces should be 6-8 inches long. Place a small bundle of cut evergreens in your hand and strip off the bottom 2 inches of needles. Place the cut pieces at an angle along the wire ring – or along a coat hanger that’s been shaped like a ring – and wrap the base of the bundle with wire, attaching the bundle to the ring. (Keep the wire attached to the spool so you can tug easily on the wire as you go.)
  2. Continue to add new bundles along the ring by placing each new bundle on top of the previously placed ones (place all the pieces in the same direction at an angle). Wrap each bundle to the ring with the wire (going around each bundle 4-5 times). Again, remember to keep tugging on the wire as you go to keep your wreath tight! Wreaths that are loose will fall apart once they’re hung.
  3. Wire your pinecones around the base of each and then tie to the evergreen frame you’ve created.
  4. Add any berries, pods or other natural decorations, then top with a bow. And presto! You’re ready to hang your festive, homemade creation.

Wreaths and door swags are great projects to do with the kids. Believe me, I know! Not only did I teach wreath-making to 4-H Club kids for 22 years, our heated garage was the site for our yearly wreath-making party for my daughter’s Girl Scout troop. Mothers and daughters laughed and shared stories as we made our wreaths together. Each wreath was unique and perfect. Toss in some hot chocolate, cookies and Christmas songs, and your family can have quite the holiday celebration, too!