Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Securing Manzanita Branches with Plaster

Securing Manzanita Branches with plaster is relatively simple, quick and easy. You'd want to use this technique if you plan on displaying your branches in a relatively low and wide container such as a terra cotta garden pot, a box, etc. The goal is to secure the branches in the pots so they don't shift around, and to put enough weight in the base so that the display is stable. Having enough weight in the base is especially important if you are planning on loading up your Manzanita Branches with votives or crystals. You can get Natural Manzanita Branches here or here, and you can get Sandblasted Manzanita Branches here or here

Here's how to do it:

1. Get your supplies. You should have no problem rounding up supplies at your local home improvement store. The first stop for us was the garden and outdoor section, where we grabbed a bag of pea gravel (about $4 for much more gravel than needed). Pea Gravel was angular enough so that it sort of locked together a bit, but not so much that it was difficult to make small adjustments to the position of the branch (more on this later).  For the container, we picked out an 8" diameter standard clay pot (also around $4). While we kept it plain, there were a ton of other inexpensive options. For the 36-42" Natural Manzanita Branch we used, the 8" pot seemed just right - not too big, and not too small (we also got a 10" pot, which looked way too big). Then we headed over to the vicinity of the paint section to get the plaster (around $10 for an 8 lb pail, or $15 for a 25 lb bag).

2. Set your Manzanita Branch in the stones. If there is a drainage hole in the bottom of your pot, tape it over. Place the branch in the container, hold it in the desired position, and pour a sufficient amount of gravel into the container so that it can stand on its own (a few inches). Make any final adjustments to the position of the branch.

Now you could skip over this step and use nothing but plaster in the pot, but then you'd have to worry about how you're going to keep the branch in the right position while the plaster sets, and you'd need to use a lot more plaster, which compared to the gravel, is more expensive and trickier to work with. Something I definitely wouldn't use as filler is a light material such as packing peanuts or crumpled paper, as these wouldn't add the necessary weight to the base.

3. Mix up a batch of plaster. Make enough to create a layer a few inches deep in your container (carefully follow the directions!). Try to avoid making too much plaster, as more definitely is not merrier when it comes to plaster, and you can always mix another batch if you need it. This is a messy operation, so take the necessary precautions such as covering your work area. When it's ready, it should be smooth and about the consistency of pancake batter.

4. Pour the plaster into your container. Do not fill the pot completely with the plaster, however, as you'll want about an inch over which you can place an attractive material such as sand, stone or moss. Unless you're super careful, you'll probably get some plaster on the outside of the container and/or the branch. This isn't a big deal - just wipe off what you can when it happens, and finish cleaning up the display after the plaster has set. A damp sponge with a scrubber pad on the back works quite well.

5. The final touches. In about a half hour, the plaster will have set. This is the best time to clean up any plaster that ended up on the branch or the exterior of the container. The last thing to do before you really get decorating is to cover up the plaster with a layer of attractive filler (we just used some pea gravel).

Now you're ready to get decorating!


Anonymous said...

Thanks for these instructions! We are making 4 displays using manzanita branches for our June '09 wedding, and this is certainly helpful.

One question- Can manzanita branches be shaped? Ours came in and they are very closed in. If they are to be soaked, would the branches become more pliable?

Thanks again.

Justin said...

You're welcome and congratulations on the wedding! Manzanita can't be soaked and opened up like Mitsumata. If the branches are a bit too dense and you'd like to thin them out, you can do some pruning with a set of hand pruners. Here's a tip for doing this If you have the Natural style of branches - when you cut a branch off it will expose the light colored wood - to mask this, simply color it with a black marker. You'll only notice the cut if you look very carefully. Hope this helps!

Anonymous said...

I also tk u for the instructions with the pictures as u do it. That in its self shows u care about your customers satisfaction :). 1)For this size u did, approximately how many more pots could have done with ur bucket of plaster and pea gravel?
2)Did I understand u, to leave an inch from the top of the pot with the plaster or should it be more for the drying reasons?
3)Is the clay pots better to use? I was wondering if the clay ones would absorb some of the mositure verses other pots.
4)On the ones u did in the plastic containers u said it could mildew, If u leave them in to long Will it do that in the clay pots?
5)I will want to pre-make them as far ahead of time as I can, before the wedding (is 3 months ahead of time, before the wedding, to long for them to sit)
6)Did u spary paint or brush paint the clay Pot?
Thank you

Justin said...


Thanks for the questions! Here are the answers:

1. WIth that bucket of plaster, I probably could have done at least 5-6 displays. If you are doing a lot, they do sell plaster in very larger bags that are quite a bit less expensive.

2. I left space in the top of the pot to provide room to hold some attractive filler such as river stones or moss - it didn't have anything to do with drying.

3. Indeed, the clay pots absorb water. This means that you would need to give the display plenty of time to dry before you paint the pots. I don't think they are particularly any better or any worse than other types of containers (they are quite cheap though!)

4. We didn't notice any mildew problems with the ones in clay pots. As long as you provide adequate air circulation while the plaster is drying, you shouldn't have any problems.

5. I don't think you should encounter any problems creating them that far ahead of time, although the displays will take up a lot of space so make sure you have a place to store them.

6. We spray painted the pot (and the branches), which definitely seemed like the fastest way. In another post I tried using a brush, but that took a long time.

Let us know if you have any more questions!

Soon2bMrsH said...

Would glass containers/vases be okay to use for this project? Thank you!

Justin said...

You shouldn't put the plaster directly into the glass containers - instead, the technique that we described in a later post - http://nettletonhollow.blogspot.com/2009/05/securing-manzanita-branches-with.html - hope this helps!

Anonymous said...


Would crystals in a glass vase hide the white cement base of the branches

Justin said...

Crystals might obscure the plaster base depending on how thick the layer is between the wall of the vase and the base. However. I don't think crystals would lock in the base very well so the display would be at risk of tipping over. If you give it a try, you'll definitely want to thoroughly test it first!

Anonymous said...

I love this idea. I wanted to make a fuller tree look for my wedding centerpieces. Would you reccommend a wider base if I wanted to expand the tree look out fuller or would that size base work because it has the plaster in it? I plan on hanging votives from it and having flowers around the base.


Justin said...

Congratulations on the wedding! Indeed, you'll probably want to use a container that's a bit wider to accommodate additional branches. If you're going with a terracotta pot, an "azalea pot", which is lower and wider might be a good choice.

Anonymous said...

Hello Justin. I just recieved 18 24-30" branches that I plan on using for my upcoming wedding in August. I was going to use 12 of them (2 in each vase) on six of the tables, saving the other six branches for the guest book table or something of that sort. Would I need to nix the idea of the guest book table idea and put three branches in each vase or would 2 be enough? Also, I ordered six 10" boxes to set the branches in. I was going to set them in floral foam for stability and then pour the plaster over that, covering with moss. Is this a good idea? and should I use some kind of sealing stuff for the sides of the boxes before I start??? HELP!

Justin said...

Hi there - How many branches you'll want per display is a matter of taste. You'll find a post on the topic here - http://nettletonhollow.blogspot.com/2009/03/manzanita-branch-form.html

As a rule of thumb, we recommend budgeting three per centerpiece if what you want is a fairly dense, full and symmetrical arrangement. Personally though, I tend to prefer the sparer look you get when you use just one branch per centerpiece.

If the containers aren't waterproof, I'd suggest using the technique described here - http://nettletonhollow.blogspot.com/2009/05/securing-manzanita-branches-with.html - pouring plaster directly into a container that isn't waterproof might result in warping, paint peeling, etc. Also, I'd skip using the floral foam altogether as it will greatly reduce the strength of the base. You just need to hold the branches in place for about 20 minutes while the plaster sets, which can be achieved by propping the display up against something and taping it down.

Hope this helps!

Anonymous said...


Thanks so much for the info. Very precise. What is that layer of paper in the pot right before you pour in the plaster? Just curious.

Thanks in advance.

Justin said...

What looks like paper in the third picture actually is just plaster - it was rather stiff!