Few things are as quintessentially Christmas as a homemade Winterberry wreath and the sight of those bright red berries adorning the front door definitely says ‘season’s greetings’ to all who come calling. Our demonstration today comes to us from Cathie Whitman, who along with her partner Tim Hurley runs the Timberosa Tree Farm in Pitt Meadows – 10 acres of Christmas trees and holly all in full view of the majestic coast mountains. Tim and Cathie have been welcoming the public during the Christmas season since 2003 and Cathie’s Winterberry creations have become a local favorite. She is going to show you how to make your own in three easy steps. Tools and Supplies – You’ll need an 18 or 24″ wire wreath frame, a roll of waxed string, some rustic wire, secateurs (hand pruners) and wire cutters. Depending on how dense you want your wreath to be, you will need between 30 and 45 Winterberry stems, with lengths varying between 10 to 12″. A flat work surface will also come in handy, as will a second pair of hands.
Step 1 – Begin prepping your Winterberry stems by removing leaves and any spoiled berries beforehand. Secure your waxed string to the frame by tying it and then you are ready to begin attaching your stems to the frame.
Step 2 – Carefully tie your Winterberry stems to the frame in bundles of three, while also taking the time to gently bend the lower bare stems to the arch of the frame and tie them in place. Once in place the tips of the Winterberry stems should still flare out somewhat, up to 3 to 4″ from the frame edge. Be careful to choose thinner stems, as the thicker ones tend to crack easily.
Step 3 – Continue the process by overlapping the Winterberry bundles and tying them to the frame in succession, carefully working your way all around. Once you’ve tied all the Winterberry sprigs onto the frame you can use your secateurs to prune the tips in order to create a balanced wreath. You can then attach a loop of rustic wire onto the back for hanging.
Your homemade Winterberry wreath should last you well into the New Year and one way to defer the costs of purchasing Winterberry stems every year is to grow your own shrub. Ilex verticillata really isn’t that demanding, it just needs plenty of space to grow as the average plant reaches 6′ wide by 6-8′ tall. They prefer a rich, acidic soil that is evenly moist and part to full sun. The female plants produce the berries and two good cultivars include ‘Afterglow’ and ‘Winter Red’ – just make sure that they have a male pollination partner (‘Jim Dandy’ and ‘Southern Gentleman’ respectively). The only other thing you may need is some bird netting, as our feathered friends will often pick them clean before you get a chance to enjoy them. That said, your old wreaths can be hung in the garden after Christmas for the Stellar’s Jays and Thrushes to feast on during the colder weather.