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Jeff Rugg


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Proper Pruning Method Needed for Making Evergreen Wreaths


Q: I enjoy making wreaths for fall and winter to hang on my door. I use parts from all kinds of plants in my yard, but I was recently told that I shouldn't cut the evergreens; I would harm them this time of year. I have removed evergreen branches for years and haven't noticed any problems, but I also don't want to hurt my plants.

Where do all the evergreen wreath branches come from — surely they had to be removed in the wintertime? What should I do?

A: This is one of those cases where both sides are right. What kind of evergreens are you talking about? The proper pruning time and technique for a spruce or pine is different compared to a yew or juniper, and even more different for a holly, boxwood, azalea or podocarpus. Pruning is not normally recommended for evergreens in the wintertime, but it can be done.

Proper pruning time is not too important when you are just snipping off a few branches, rather than trimming the whole plant or hedge of plants. However, using an appropriate pruning technique is significant no matter when the cutting is done.

For a new branch, always cut the stem back to a side branch or a bud. Don't just snip it off leaving a stub. This is especially important on pines and spruces where removed branches will not send out new growth at the cutoff ends of a branch. Perennials, which are dying back at this time of year, are more forgiving — you can remove them at the ground level or at any desired height.

Many shrubs, trees and perennials can be used for making wreaths. Walk through your landscape and look for branches that have interesting shapes and colors. You may find branches with corky ridges similar to those found on burning bush or sweet gum trees. Not all branches are brown; in fact, kerria and certain dogwoods have green, red and yellow branches. Some shrubs may still contain pretty berries, but be careful if they are put on the front door. The berries might fall off and stain the floor when walked on.

To start a wreath, you will need some thin wire from the craft store. The wire is known as paddle wire because it comes wrapped around a flat spool. Create a simple wreath by tying long thin branches, strands of grapevine or strands of bittersweet vine together. When the rope of branches is long enough, bend them into the size of the desired circle and tie the ends together with paddle wire. Lastly, add a few pieces of ribbon, small cones, leaves or knickknacks with wire or hot glue.

Another way to make a wreath from grapevines or bittersweet vines is to put a circle of nails on a board or shed wall.

With the nails sticking out from the board a few inches, wrap the vines around the circle weaving them back and forth on the nails. After enough layers are wrapped around the nails, leave the wreath for a few days to dry out; the circle will retain its shape. Hanging heavy objects, such as a bird feeder, on the bottom of the wreath may distort the shape.

Christmas wreaths are often created with a wire-form base purchased from the craft store. They tend to use smaller evergreen branch tips rather than longer branch pieces. While you are going through the pruning process, look for small out-of-place pieces that can be cut off to cleanup the look of your evergreen plants. Interior branches on holly, boxwood and needle-leaved evergreens are all good to use, since the plant doesn't need them as much as the outer branches.

Please don't remove tree and shrub branches or perennial tops of plants if you haven't asked permission. It is wrong to make an inexpensive wreath at the expense of stealing from someone else.

After cutting the evergreens, spray them with Wilt-Pruf or another plant protector. These products use a variety of waxy chemicals to coat the leaves. Allowing less water to transpire, keeps the evergreens living longer. Referred to as anti-transpirants, these products help to slow the plant transpiration rate. They are not called anti-transparents, which would help stop plants from being clear. The spell checker would prefer that spelling, though.

Anti-transpirants are useful for gardeners. For protection from winter's drying winds, spray on broad-leaved and needle-leaved evergreens. They assist in keeping transplants from drying out in spring and summer, and can help Christmas trees last longer indoors.

Evergreen wreaths made from spruce, fir, juniper or pine branches are gathered in a few ways from northern forests. In areas that have been logged, new trees are planted. The new trees can sometimes grow too close and need to be thinned out. The branches of these and other cut-down trees are cut up for roping and wreaths. Other companies send groups of people into the mountains to prune trees of their branch ends. The trees are not harvested, just trimmed.

At Christmas tree farms, not every tree is properly shaped and some are cut up. The base of a tree may be curved, meaning the tree is sliced above this point. The stump that remains could still have a whorl of remaining branches, which can be removed for creating wreaths.

E-mail questions to Jeff Rugg, Kendall County unit educator, University of Illinois Extension at To find out more about Jeff Rugg and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at



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