Decorating your own living space should incorporate your personal tastes and style in color and texture and highlight a little bit about who you are as a person. You also want to enjoy being within these areas and find solace in the effort you put into making it your very own. Unfortunately, decor can get a bit pricey, especially when you have a very specific idea in mind, and often your personal vision may be placed on hold or neglected altogether due to this problem.
However, if you have the wherewithal and the ability to follow directions, there are not too many things you cannot create on your own for a fraction of the cost. A living succulent wall hanging, is one of those items that is not at all difficult to make for a fraction of what you would buy it for- plus it is an attractive piece that will garner plenty of attention and enjoyment (they also make great gifts). If you have ever wondered how to make a living succulent picture, read on for detailed instructions to get started on your own.
What Is a Living Succulent Picture?
If you aren’t exactly sure what a living succulent picture is, but the idea sounds intriguing, then this is for you. Looking for a totally unique focal point for a wall, sideboard, or tabletop? Have an odd space to fill and you don’t want to settle for something generic? A succulent frame may be the perfect solution.
This project incorporates a deep frame and living plants for a truly one of a kind decorative statement. All you need is your choice of wood size and length for a shadow box frame, some potting soil, a few other small products, and living succulents of your choice. When enmeshed together, it results in a living, texturized picture that you can hang or place wherever decent lighting is available (even if its not, there are solutions- read below).
What You Need
To make a frame similar to the one I am going to walk you through, you need to gather up a few items before getting started:
- 1×2 lengths of wood board (size should be chosen in accordance to project size) – If you are designing something smaller in nature, then you don’t want heavy, bulky lengths of wood. Often you can find pre cut pieces at local hardware stores that are offered for discount prices. For large projects be sure to choose thicker, sturdier wood.
- Prefab decorative frame front OR wood to create your own frame – You can always purchase a frame front, use an old frame from a resale shop, or make your own to fit the shadow box you are going to make. Old barn wood and pallet wood also makes a great choice.
- Hanging Hardware –If you plan to hang your frame, be sure to purchase a strong enough option for what you are building.
- Plywood – You need to have a sturdy backing to the shadow box. Choose a good plywood for this space.
- Thick plastic – You will need to line your box to avoid any rot, mold, or mildew that could occur due to moist soils.
- Wood glue – Secure your pieces together with wood glue prior to nailing.
- Small finishing nails – This provides a bit of extra stability. Look for small finishing nails that will not split wood when you drive them into the surface.
- Potting soil – You can use a succulent potting soil or regular potting soil. In my experience I have found the regular potting soils to work better since you aren’t watering very often anyway.
- Chicken wire – Chicken wire works best for this project if you use moss. It allows for a large enough opening for easy planting and does not cut into the base of your plant as it grows.
- Fresh preserved sheet or mat moss – Preserved moss keeps soil from falling through the wire, allows for a pretty backdrop to your plants, and help preserve moisture.
- Succulents of your choice – Pick and choose succulent species that you like! Remember this is a piece that will be displayed vertically, so don’t opt for plants that grow too tall. Look for succulents your local gardening center has on clearance in the summer or early fall. Many of these have begun to multiply and provide a plethora of ‘babies’ to use as well.
- Optional: Rooting Hormone – Although not always necessary, dipping your plant stems in rooting hormone can help trigger a rotting response and provide a better chance of survival
- Circular Saw or Hand Saw – You also could have your wood cut to your desired dimensions at a local lumber yard. Often they provide the saw needed for you to do it yourself.
- Staple Gun
- Wire snipping tool
- Measuring Tape
- Optional: Miter Box
- Optional: Paint or Wood Stain
Step 1: Build Your Shadow Box Frame
Cut your boards to the length you want your frame to be and secure them together, finishing off with a backboard of plywood. This part of the frame will not be visible, so you don’t have to get fancy with the way it looks. Consider making multiple small boxes, or play with length and width to create an even more interesting visual. Be sure to attach any hanging hardware you have to your frame.
Before buying any long, expensive lengths of wood, look for pre-cut pieces sold at a discount, or ask a sales associate at your local lumberyard for any scrap pieces. Many times you can get these for free. This is especially true if they are not perfect in anyway. Unless horribly warped, you can most likely take advantage of these cuts to use since they will not be visible.
Step 2: Line With Plastic
To avoid moisture seeping into your wood frame over time and rotting it or causing molds and mildews, line the box you’ve created with heavy plastic. You can also use a spray liner to help waterproof and protect the wood. Staple it securely into place and top with a dot of wood glue to keep the holes you create with the staple from allowing moisture through. Allow it to dry completely before moving onto the next step.
I used a spray liner and adhered the plastic to it to help keep it in place and provide an extra layer of protection. I then stapled the edges of the plastic below the lip of the frame and dotted them with glue.
Step 3: Fill With Potting Soil and Water
Fill the box with potting soil and water well so it is thoroughly moist. You want to fill it completely and press it firmly down, adding more soil until it is just below or at (not over) the edge of your box top.
If you do not put enough soil in it will shift with gravity as you turn the frame upright and may leave your plants without any rooting compound to grow within. This will quickly kill them as they will not be able to uptake the water and nutrients needed to survive.
Step 4: Cover With Moss
Layer your moss over the top of your soil, pushing it firmly into place. If it falls below the lip of the box you need to add more soil to the box until it sit just level, or slightly over the top edge. The moss will help keep soil in place, retain moisture, stabilize your plants, and provide a nice green backdrop to the picture as your plants grow.
Step 5: Top With Chicken Wire and Secure
Cut chicken wire to fit over the frame top and secure into place with the staple gun. Be sure to keep it laid flat and taut over your moss topped soil to provide structure and security to the growing compound and succulents you will add to the frame. Don’t skimp on the staples either. I started along the top and worked my way down adding tension prior to each staple.
I’m not sure why I missed a picture on this step without the front on, but it was easy enough to lay over the frame and make it nice and tight. Cut it a little larger than the frame to allow you enough material to pull for tightness. You can always cut off the surplus or bend it down over the frame. This is going to be further secured when you nail your front frame over it.
Step 6: Create Frame Front
Add your decorative frame or cut your choice of boards to create a frame front. This step covers the shadow box edges, chicken wire placement, and provides an additional decorative touch to your living picture. Have fun with this step and use paint or stain to create the perfect match to your vision. I stained my boards after putting the frame on, mixing a cool and warm stain to allow it to soak into the extremely dry wood for a unique effect.
I used old pallet wood that had a lot of weathered personality. Although they were fairly straight overall, I did notice a little warping once I began cutting. This wasn’t drastic and only added to the effect I was looking for in the long run. I did sand down the rough edges and sanded lightly over the top of any boards that were dry and rough as well. I wasn’t worried about the nails and staples I used because I wanted a rougher looking frame- but you can easily glue or secure your frame from below instead.
Step 7: Plant Succulents
Choose smaller succulents that grow wider than taller and are not fully mature to use in your frame. You want to be sure you can easily fit the Succulents that drape are also popular and can be used to weave throughout the other plant choices you make. Take a pencil or thin knife and create a small opening through the moss and soil to plant your succulents. Be sure to plant the larger plants first followed by any trailing plants and smaller cuttings you may have.
If you gather immature plants from a ‘mother’ plant, be sure to pull the bottom layer of leaves off to allow them to root. You can also dip these small babies or other new growth plants in a rooting hormone to provide them a better foundation to root and grow.
Step 8: Lay Flat For Two Weeks
Keep your frame flat for two weeks to allow your plants to take root and establish themselves. Also keep them out of direct sunlight so they are not stressed by the replanting process. Rewater before hanging (remember, not heavily saturated, but thoroughly moist) and allow water to soak in good before turning upright.
Step 9: Display!
Hang or place your frame where it will be best displayed either indoors or out during the warmer months. Most succulents are fairly hardy against the cold, but you will want to be sure to bring your frame indoors for the winter due to the shallow planting structure which can freeze. Some succulents cannot handle freezing temperatures either which will turn their water filled leaves to mush, so be sure to handle properly based on the species you choose.
Also place it where it can receive a good amount of indirect or full time sun for at least part of the day. Most succulents thrive in well lighted conditions but do not like high heat and direct sun for long amounts of time.
How to Care for Your “Picture”
Succulents like their soil to start to dry out before being watered, and taking down your frame, laying it flat, and watering thoroughly every two weeks should be sufficient for your watering schedule. Leave it sit for a half hour before rehanging so the soils can fully moisturize!
If you see any wilting plants between watering you should water a bit more often. You also can spritz some water on your plants in between waterings to raise humidity levels and give them a little recharge, especially if it has been dry.
Succulents are also found to thrive in low nutrient soils, but they do need an occasional feeding. Use a low dose of a well balanced fertilizer once a year to feed your frame.
Solutions for Poorly Lit Areas
Have the perfect space for your frame but it gets weak light? Succulents do need a nice bright area to thrive, but you can easily provide an environment for them with the use of a grow light, or by replacing a regular light bulb with a grow light bulb near where you display your frame.
As you can see, this is a simple enough product that fits well in a budget and creates an expensive looking piece of decor that will be the envy of all who see it. If you can piece together a frame and plant a plant you have the skills you need to get this job done.
If you have any questions or comments, please let us know below. And, as always, please share.