Tips for Making DIY Christmas Garland

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Garland adds a festive touch at the holidays, and making your own DIY Christmas garland is easier than you think!

Have you ever visited someone’s home during the holidays and found it just perfectly decorated? Chances are, some cheerful Christmas garland pulled the whole festive look together.

Garland, wreaths and other decorative greenery have been a part of celebrations for much of recorded history. As far back as ancient Greece, they were used as religious offerings, and to commemorate victories.

The Christmas garland tradition, like that of the Christmas tree, came to the U.S. from Central Europe. Braided or twined greenery is now commonly used on fireplace mantels, along stair rails or over doorways and windows. It’s often lit with Christmas lights, and can be embellished with ornaments, pine cones, ribbon and other decorative bits and bobs.

You can easily find ready-made, pre-lit artificial garland and natural garland, but it’s more fun to make it yourself. Plus, the results are sure to be one of a kind! Even if you’re not crafty by nature, DIY Christmas garland is easy to make. It can be as simple or fancy as you like.

Our step-by-step expert tips for DIY Christmas garland will have you decking the halls in no time!

Gather Greenery

Start your DIY Christmas garland project by gathering boughs of greenery. “Many evergreen and common landscape plants have unique foliage and characteristics that make for great foraging when making garland,” says Kim Toscano of Southern Living Plants.

While evergreen shrubs and trees are the most common types, she says plenty of other landscape plants with distinct characteristics make great additions to garland.

“When foraging or buying plant material for garland, be sure to look for different colors and textures to give the garland dynamic appeal,” says Toscano. She’s a fan of Baby Gem Boxwood, which she says makes a simple garland by itself or as filler paired with other foliage. She also suggests varying colors by pairing yellow-variegated holly with deep green foliage.

When calculating how many boughs you need, start by deciding what parts of the house will have garland, and measuring those distances. Take the fireplace mantel. Measure the width and allow extra length for swags if you’re planning to drape it. You’ll probably want lengths of garland extending down from each end as well.

Once you have this rough idea in mind, Toscano suggests buying or gathering enough foliage to make a small section of garland, like a foot or two. Consider how much you need to make that small section, and multiply it by how many feet you need in total.

Experts advise that with garland greenery, more is more. Garland that’s not densely wrapped can look too airy and sparse, so it’s better to err on the side of too much rather than too little.

Choose Lights and Other Garland Decoration

Greenery is just the base for your DIY Christmas garland. The real fun begins when you start choosing decorations. For a more natural look, Toscano suggests gathering “berries, pine cones or leafless branches. For a more decorated and colorful look, use ribbon and bows.”

If you’re going to use Christmas lights in your garland, do a test run by wrapping strings of lights around it. Then turn them on, so you can see how dense you want the lighting to be. Fewer lights usually translate to a softer, more natural look. But you may prefer abundant lights, or maybe even blinking ones!

Home stores, craft stores and some department stores sell inexpensive Christmas ornaments, bows, ribbons and other decorative items. When purchasing lights and ribbon, remember to allow for their wrapping. They’ll typically be twisted around the garland, which means you’ll need more than just the linear length of the garland.

Prepare Your Tools

Once you’ve assembled the raw materials for your DIY Christmas garland, you’ll need some small hand tools and additional supplies, including:

  • Heavy-duty twine or lightweight rope. This serves as the base. “Make sure it is sturdy enough to hold the garland together,” says Toscano, “but thin enough to not be seen through the foliage.” She suggests about 1/4-inch thickness.
  • Green floral paddle wire. This is coated wire wrapped around a wooden or plastic base, or paddle. It attaches the garland to the rope. “Paddle wire makes it easy to add the boughs and continuously wire them to the base without stopping and it keeps it tight,” says Gail Pabst of the National Garden Bureau. “If you use twine or string (for attaching the boughs), you have to stop and tie each and the twine slips.”
  • Floral stem wire. To attach lights, ornaments and other decorations, buy some pre-cut floral stem wire, so you can twist items onto the boughs without cutting the wire every time.

Hand tools you’ll need:

  • Small hand pruners for clipping foliage;
  • Scissors for rope, twine and ribbon;
  • Wire cutters.

Assemble the Garland

To put all your boughs and other foliage together, lay the rope on a long, flat surface. Toscano suggests attaching the paddle wire to one end of the rope, then positioning your first bough and wrapping the base of the bough with the wire so that it’s firmly attached to the rope.

“Repeat this with small boughs of foliage until you reach the desired length,” she says. “Cover the end of the rope with extra foliage and secure it with the wire.”

It’s really important that the garland is tightly wired to the rope. There shouldn’t be any loosely wound wire or boughs that look like they might detach. Once the body of the garland is complete, look for gaps. Fill them with additional smaller pieces of greenery, or add other natural elements like berries, pine cones or bare branches.

Now comes the fun part. Decorate your garland in the following sequence:

  • Lights;
  • Ribbons;
  • Ornaments or other decorations.

Attach all these items (except hooked ornaments) with paddle wire or floral wire. Hang your garland in place before you add other items like lights and ribbons; this way you can see how everything hangs and where there might be holes in your design. Make sure to tuck the wired part of the light string or ribbon into the greenery so it doesn’t show.

Hang Your Christmas Garland

There are a few options for attaching your garland, depending on where you want to hang it.

For a fireplace mantel:

  • Use small hooks or nails that you screw or hammer into the mantle.
  • Use clear, adhesive hooks that can be removed when the holidays are over.

For a stair banister:

For doorways:

  • Wrap floral or paddle wire to make loops on the garland. Attach it to small nails or adhesive hooks.

For outdoors:

  • Use the same wire and small nails method as for indoors, but beef it up to account for wintery winds.

Garland Safety

Keep two important safety precautions in mind when working with fresh greenery garland:

  • If you hang garland over a fireplace, make sure that it’s a safe distance from sparks.
  • If you have small children or pets, check first to see if any of the plants you want to use are hazardous. Holly is poisonous to humans and animals, so either skip it or hang the garland safely away from little hands and paws.

Elizabeth Heath
Elizabeth Heath is a travel, culinary and lifestyle writer based in rural Umbria, Italy. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, HuffPost, Frommers.com, TripSavvy and many other publications. Her guidebook, An Architecture Lover's Guide to Rome, was released in 2019. Liz's husband is a stonemason and together they are passionate about the great outdoors, endless home improvement projects, dogs, their unruly garden and their slightly less unruly 8-year-old.