Making a simple and beautiful autumn wreath using natural elements

Nothing is more fun to me than a crafty project, and I especially love ones that involve being outdoors or using natural elements. The weather in Virginia finally started to cool off about a month ago and ever since we’ve been spending more and more time outside—hiking, playing fetch with our pups and exploring some local parks.

I’ve also been busy collecting lots of acorns, pinecones and dried oak leaves—the perfect assortment of goodies for creating a pretty autumn harvest wreath.

Tips for scavenging

When hunting for the perfect pinecones and acorns for craft projects, be careful to find newly fallen ones. Pinecones that have been on the ground for months or longer are going to be more difficult to clean and sanitize. They also won’t be as sturdy because they’ve essentially been decomposing in place. Old pinecones are just a bit yucky, so avoid them. Instead look for ones that are fresh, dry and fully opened.

Wait until you’ve had several days of sunny weather in the fall to ensure you’ll find dry, fresh pinecones. October and November are perfect months to go scavenging. Windy days help blow down a lot of goodies as well, so check after wind storms.

For acorns, it’s perfectly find to collect green ones that haven’t fully matured yet. All acorns will shrink during the drying process, so you may have to hot glue the centers and tops together after baking. Green acorns will brown while baking.

Before using them for crafting, all acorns and pinecones need to be washed and then baked. This will kill any bugs that may be hiding inside and prevent mold or mildew from forming.

How to Sanitize Pinecones + Acorns

To sanitize your pinecones and acorns, first wash them in a solution of warm water and vinegar. Fill a bowl with warm water and add 1-2 cups of vinegar. Soak the pinecones and/or acorns for about half an hour and scrub off any dirt.

After soaking, drain and remove to a foil or parchment paper lined baking sheet. The pinecones will leak sap while baking and you don’t want this to get all over your baking pans, so make sure they’re well covered!

Bake in a 200 degree oven for 30 minutes until dry. The drying process will cause the pinecones to open up, so don’t be worried if they close up while soaking. The pinecones may be sticky with sap when you remove them from the oven. Let them cool and the sap will harden, leaving you with pretty, shiny pinecones.

Collecting leaves

When leaf collecting, I look for brown oak and maple leaves that have already dried out naturally. You can collect leaves in beautiful autumn colors and try to preserve them, but it takes weeks to do this and the results are not always stellar. I don’t have a guide for drying colorful leaves as I haven’t tried it yet.

It’s a good idea to go hunting after a few days of dry, sunny weather, just like with pinecones and acorns. You want to look for freshly fallen leaves that have no weird water spots, holes or dirt. It was pretty easy to amass a large collection of pretty leaves after just a few minutes of hunting.

Leaves do not need to be washed or sanitized and can be used for crafting as long as they are clean and dry.

Nut shells

Walnut shells are a a really pretty addition to autumal decor. I purchased two packs of in-shell walnuts from Walmart and spent a few hours carefully cracking them all open.

Buy more than you think you’ll need for walnut shells because most of them won’t crack open well and will end up…. smashed to pieces. Working slowly and carefully is the best way to end up with usable shells.

Make sure you remove all the edible parts of the nut from the shell. For some shells, I was able to glue the halves back together so that they formed whole shells again. I did NOT use whole shells with nuts still inside—please don’t do this or you’ll probably end up with a very buggy wreath!

Making the wreath

I purchased an 18″ grapevine wreath form from the craft store to serve as the base for my harvest wreath. The first step was to hot glue a layer of dried leaves on the wreath form. I covered most of the wreath in the dried leaves but left a few small spots open.

Starting with large elements like the pinecones and whole walnut shells, I started to glue a layer in between and on top of the leaves. Then I used smaller elements—like acorns, walnut shell halves and some tiny pinecone—to fill the holes and cover the gaps. I used the same process and worked my way around the wreath until it looked full.

To finish the wreath off, I tied a burlap loop around the top and formed it into a cute bow. Then I hung the wreath up and filled a few last holes with acorns and hot glue.

I’m really pleased with the result—it’s exactly the warm, natural look I was going for and was a very simple and fun project!

If you can’t source good pinecones and acorns locally, they are available to purchase from small farmers online. Here are some great pinecone, acorn, dried leaf and walnut shell suppliers on Etsy. And check out these tiny pinecones!

For more natural wreath inspiration, check out Pinterest! Next year I’d love to make a wreath that’s covered entirely in dried acorns like this one.

Have you gotten creative with any home decor projects this fall? Are you over autumn yet and ready to move on to Christmas? I’m very torn. I’m so excited to unpack Christmas, but it’s always sad to put away my pretty vintage autumn things. For now I think I’ll just enjoy my new wreath, finalize Thanksgiving plans and maybe start sneaking some Christmas in.

Happy November, friends!