Welcome to another Wacky Workshops project – how to make a succulent tree.
One of my favourite things about Christmas is the tree. From setting it up with tiny treasures I haven’t seen in a year and enjoying the twinkling lights each night, to opening presents around it on Christmas day.
Did you know it was the Germans who thought of celebrating Christmas with a tree? They actually brought large pine branches into their homes and decorated them with cookies and candles.
These days, Christmas trees, from farm-grown pines to artificial trees, have become a booming industry.
Whatever type of tree you prefer and whether or not you celebrate Christmas, this little succulent tree is sure to put a smile on your face.
These sweet little living art forms are so much fun to make and they don’t require any special skills and only a few materials. But you will need to use a lot of plant cuttings.
SUCCULENT PLANT POPULARITY
The humble succulent plant sure has hit the spotlight during the past few years. Once mainly overlooked as unchallenging for dedicated gardeners and overwatered, soggy messes for non-gardeners, they have now become one of the most popular plants to grow.
The very qualities that had them overlooked a few years ago – easy care and easy to propagate – are part of what makes them so popular now. That, combined with the fact they come in all kinds of shapes and colours and are so versatile to use, means their price tag has gone up in line with their popularity.
For that reason, you will want access to a variety of plants you can take cuttings from. I used around 200 cuttings to make each succulent tree.
Other than that, all you need is some chicken wire, a wire roll, pliers, sphagnum moss, a wooden chopstick and straight pins.
This succulent tree project takes around two hours to complete.
HOW TO MAKE A SUCCULENT TREE – LET’S GET STARTED
- A variety of succulent plant cuttings
- Chicken wire
- Wire roll
- Sphagnum moss
- Container to soak tree in
- Wooden chopstick
- Straight pins
MAKE A WIRE CONE SHAPE
The first thing you need to do is make a cone-shaped form from the sphagnum moss.
Start by bending the chicken wire into a cone shape. I used some wire I already had on hand and it was a bit stiffer than normal chicken wire, making a little harder to shape. My first tree looks a little wonky to me.
The second time around I tried to use a foam tree form to help me shape the wire but in the end I found the best cone shape was made by rolling the wire into a cone shape and trying it together with the wire from the roll, then carefully cutting the chicken wire from the top of the cone to about a third of the way down so that I could push it together and make the top a little more pointy.
Once you are happy with the shape of your wire cone, it’s time to form the sphagnum moss form.
MAKE A SPHAGNUM MOSS FORM
It’s as easy as filling your wire cone with the moss. Sphagnum moss normally comes in brick-shaped blocks. I bought 150 g for around $10 and only used half a block per tree.
Pull bits of the moss off the block and fill your wire cone through the wider opening. You will need to wear gloves or take care to avoid getting some nasty scratches from any sharp bits of wire in the opening.
This part can get a bit messy, particularly if you are working in windy conditions as the moss is very lightweight. I filled my wire form in a bucket to try and reduce the mess.
Pack the moss as tightly as you can, using a stick to push it down towards the narrow end of the cone if necessary. Once you have the cone packed with the moss you can add more moss to the point of the cone if necessary.
Soak the moss tree form for at least half an hour. If you are using a container that isn’t tall enough for the whole tree, just flip the tree over after about 15 minutes to ensure the whole thing is soaked.
PLAN YOUR TREE
Now to the fun part. Prepare your cuttings while the tree is soaking. They don’t need to be very big as you want them to sit flush against the tree form. Leave just enough stem on each cutting so that you can poke it into the moss.
Arrange your cuttings in rows in the order you want to use them from the bottom of the tree up.
Larger plants should be at the bottom. I used a large-leafed crassula for the bottom of my trees as its bigger leaves helped to keep the shape. I used around 30 cuttings for this part of the tree.
Further up I used Pig Face and small-leafed Jade. I can’t even tell you all the names of the plants I used but it will really depend on which plants you have access to. The main thing is to use the larger leaf plants at the bottom and the smaller ones towards the top, varying the colour of each row as much as possible.
You can discover the names of various succulent plants at the Gallery of Succulent Plants.
PLANT YOUR TREE
When you have planned your cutting rows, allow the tree to drain for a few minutes, then use the wooden chopstick to push holes in the bottom of the tree form.
If you have a lazy Susan it will make the job a lot easier. If not, don’t worry. I didn’t think of this clever idea until I had virtually finished my second tree.
Make a hole, then place the stem of the cutting in the hole and secure with a straight pin through the plant if necessary. I really wasn’t keen on putting the pins in the plants (it felt a bit like plant torture) so I tried to secure the plants by pushing their leaves behind the wire form. However, this didn’t work for all of them, especially the ground cover plants with little to no stems.
Some people use pins with a colourful beaded top for this step to add to the decorative look.
Once you have added all your plant rows, examine the tree and fill in any obvious gaps with more cuttings.
At this stage, the tree will seem a bit fragile. Especially if you have used plants which have leaves that come off easily. Avoid moving it around too much until the moss dries a bit more. It will shrink a little as it dries and helps to secure the plants.
This tree can be a lovely temporary indoor decoration but needs to live outside in the full sun.
As the plants grow they will change the shape of your tree. Prune the leaves and either poke them back into the tree or use them to propagate more plants.
Water once a week during the hotter months, less in winter. The biggest killer of succulents is overwatering so allow the moss to dry out a little. Feed once during the growing season with slow-release fertiliser and enjoy your beautiful succulent tree.
If you like working with succulents you’ll love my instructions for How to Make a Turtle Planter.
You may also enjoy my How to Make a Garden Goddess project.
Happy crafting and have a gleeful week, Tamuria.