How to DIY your reception garlands

Garlands are so beautiful on rectangular tables, and if you are on Pinterest for wedding inspiration, then you are definitely going to see many greenery garlands. But once you reach out to a florist or land on their website page that breaks down standard costs, you realize it may be out of your budget. If you're in this boat and find yourself considering the DIY option, here are my best tips to help you do just that.

If you are in the Snohomish County area, I would suggest purchasing your greenery at Cascade Floral Wholesale in Everett. They’re really great and sell bulk/diy. They’ll have everything you need, including cutters, wire, and tape. If not, find out which Floral Wholesale resources are in the area or if there is a local florist who sells Bulk/DIY retail. There are also a few websites you can order bulk from, but check out their shipping costs and policies first. Flowers have to be shipped overnight and can cost hundreds depending on how much you'll be getting. You'll also need some buckets to keep your greenery in water. I get 5 gallon buckets from Walmart or Winco, they work best for greenery and are plain white. I’m sure that Home Depot’s would be fine too if you don’t care about the orange and logos. I use them every week, like to stick my own logo on the side, and find the plain white more aesthetically pleasing.

Tools you'll need:

  • Branch Cutters

  • Floral Tape

  • Paddle Wire

  • Buckets

For the garland itself, you'll want to decide on what types of greener to include in your garlands. Some greenery is better suited for garlands than others because of their size and hardiness. Most of the garlands you see on Pinterest are going to be a combination of eucalyptus. I suggest getting multiple types of greenery and textures for your garland. My personal favorite mix is silver dollar, gunni, and feather eucalyptus. If you want to include more expensive greens but make your dollar stretch, include some Salal in it. Salal is much less expensive, about half the cost per bunch, and it comes in bunches of 20 instead of 10 so really its a full 25% the cost of most greenery. Mix that in with your more expensive greens to help bulk them up and provide a contrast for eucalyptus or other textures.

If you are a visual learner, YouTube had a lot of florist tutorials on garlands. I highly recommend you read this blog, watch some videos and practice well ahead of time. I’d go grab a few bunches of the combination you want to use, either from your wholesale or a florist, and make a practice garland. Then you can see how much time it takes (a lot, surprisingly) and just how many bunches of greenery you’ll need.

Now you need to plan for how much time you need, and this is where a lot of wedding DIYers get tripped up. It's also why garlands ready made from a florist are so expensive. In my shop, a typical 8’ garland takes about 5-6 bunches of greens and 30-45 minutes from prepping the greens (removing dead leaves from each stem and cutting bigger stems into workable chunks), bunching them up with tape, and wiring the bunches together for me. I’ve gotten faster over the years and it used to take me longer. My assistants who come to help on big weeks take twice as long for each garland. For me solo, 10 - 8’ garlands takes about 8 hours of working time, not including purchasing the greens, transporting, unboxing, etc.

To allow for enough time with everything else you probably have going on the week of your wedding, plan to get your greens on Tuesday and start early. Nothing worse than staying up stressing about finishing the project the night before your wedding. Bring home your greenery, unbox it all, trim about a quarter inch off the stems and place it into fresh water. If you have pretty woody stems, cut them on a diagonal or cut a slit up the center of the branch to allow more space for water to seep in.

If you don’t have access to a very large fridge (we use a double wide, deep commercial fridge in the shop) that you can keep the greenery in, you’ll need to keep your buckets of greenery bunches out of direct sunlight and in a cool place. After they've become garlands, prepare for some of the greens to wilt or dry up. Without a fridge, the next best place to keep completed garlands is wet inside a cardboard box with some wet newspaper (the long floral boxes that you will receive your greens in work the best) in a dark, cool garage away from direct light and heat.

To Make a Garland

  • Prepare a bunch of each type of greenery at a time, so nothing is out of the water for too long. Cut the larger branches into smaller sections and remove damaged leaves. You want a piece between 8" and 10" long with about 2-3" inches at the bottom bare so you can bunch pieces together.

  • Grab a couple of each type of prepped greenery you have, place the stems together and make it into a mini bouquet. This is a part you'll want to play around with during your practice to see how many stems per each bunch gets you the thickness you want. Tape up the bunch with a bit of floral tape, and drop it stems down into a bucket of water to keep them hydrated until you wire your bundles together.

  • When you have enough bundles (I typically use about 19-20 per 8' garland) or when you have all the bundles you need for every galand you are making ready, grab your paddle wire. Wrap and twist the wire around your first bunch, then tightly wrap the next bunch so it covers the stem ends of the previous. Repeat until you've got the length you need.

  • Mist each completed garland thoroughly. I recently figured out, after years of hand cramps from a spray bottle, that the mister setting on my garden hose works miracles. You really want to keep them damp and cool so nothing dries up.

  • Store your completed garlands in long boxes flat with some wet newsprint between each one so they don't get tangles. Keep them in a cool place, ideally a fridge, and mist them frequently until you're ready to decorate your wedding!

On really hot weeks this summer we started making all our bunches and then putting them into buckets of water and keeping the wiring for the last minute. Wiring is the fastest part, and this way our little taped up bunches could be made days in advance but kept really healthy and hydrated in the water. Worked super well and helped us spread the tedious tasks throughout the week and we saved the wiring until the night before so everything was very fresh.

A few other tips:

  • Have a plan for what you’re doing with them after. Please don’t try to sell them to another bride. They’re live flowers and won’t last. Also don’t expect the venue to allow you to put them in their garbage, they have a lot of bulk. What we do with any we bring home is grab a pair of cutters, cut the greenery off just above the tape and wiring directly into the compost waste bin. The rest goes into the garbage as a lot less bulk.

  • If you plan to put flowers into the garlands, do that once they’re places on the tables so the flowers aren’t hurt in transport. Also, get a bag or two of water picks from cascade. It’s a little tedious, but giving each bloom you place in the garland a source of water will help them from wilting and looking sad through the day, especially if it’s hot.

  • Get a little broom and dustpan from the dollar tree. I call them my “Table Brooms” but it’s definitely necessary to sweep up the bits that will inevitably fall off the garlands. Oh, on that thought, put your garlands on the table before any other table top items to avoid getting them wet, dirty, or breaking any glassware.

Garlands are a lot of work and take a lot of time. That's why you'll find they may be out of your budget to hire a florist to create them. If you decide to DIY your wedding garlands, plan to have help, a limited amount of other projects to wrap up the week of your wedding, and a Netflix series to binge watch. And definitely make a practice run so you know what you're getting into and you know what you plan to make will look the way you want it to. I hope all these tips and details help, and best wishes for your wedding!