How to Make a Living Artwork Out of Succulents and an Old Picture Frame

Create your own living mosaic to hang on a wall, indoors or out! This stunning succulent wall display takes your plant game to a whole new level.

succulent picture painted frame
Photo: Peter Krumhardt
Project Overview
  • Working Time: 3 hours
  • Total Time: 4 hours
  • Skill Level: Intermediate

Add a little charm and greenery to your home with a beautiful living artwork using succulents and an old picture frame. Succulents are a natural choice for vertical gardens, since they grow slowly and have low water requirements. As a bonus, they come in so many shapes and colors, it's easy to create a unique design. Use this step-by-step guide to make a living picture.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • 1 Small pruning snips
  • 1 Hammer
  • 1 Staple gun
  • 1 Paint brush
  • 1 Clean cloth
  • 1 Chopstick or pencil

Materials

  • 1 Succulent cuttings
  • 1 Shadow box made of redwood or cedar 1x3s, cut to fit the back of the frame
  • 1 Picture frame with back and glass panel removed
  • 1 Nails
  • 1 1/2-inch hardware cloth, cut to fit the inside dimensions of the frame
  • 1 Staples
  • 1 1/4-inch plywood backing, cut to fit the back of the shadow box
  • 1 Paint
  • 1 All-purpose potting soil

Instructions

  1. Make the Cuttings

    cuttings
    Peter Krumhardt

    It's easy to take cuttings from established succulents growing in your home or garden. With small pruning snips, cut stem sections one to two inches long. Remove the lower leaves. Roots will sprout from these leaf nodes. Let the cuttings dry on a tray for a few days before you plant them. This curing process causes cut ends to callus, or form a thin layer of cells.

    Related: Your Guide to Growing and Caring for Succulents

  2. Cut the Shadow Box Frame

    shadow box
    Peter Krumhardt

    A shadow box adds depth to the back of the picture frame, allowing space for soil and plant roots. Use naturally water-resistant redwood or cedar 1x3s, cut to fit the back of the frame. Nail or screw into place.

  3. Set the Hardware Cloth

    Hardware Cloth Frame
    Peter Krumhardt

    With the frame still face down, insert the hardware cloth. The 1/2-inch grid is small enough to hold in potting soil, yet large enough to accommodate stems. Staple the hardware cloth to the edges of the frame.

  4. Add Backing

    backing
    Peter Krumhardt

    After setting the hardware cloth, lay 1/4-inch plywood backing on the back of the shadow box and secure it with nails. This backing will be the finishing touch to your shadow-box frame.

  5. Paint the Frame

    paint frame brush
    Peter Krumhardt

    Turn the frame face up. Brush on a coat of outdoor paint, which will offer some protection against the elements. For an antique effect, let the paint dry for a few minutes and then wipe the frame with a clean cloth. If desired, paint the underlying box, too.

  6. Add Soil

    soil
    Peter Krumhardt

    Allow the frame to dry completely before filling the box with potting soil. Pour soil on top of the hardware cloth, using your hands to push it through the openings. Shake the frame periodically to evenly disperse the soil. Add more soil until it reaches the bottom of the wire grid.

    Related: A Guide to Homemade Potting Soil

  7. Poke Holes

    On a flat surface, lay out your succulent cuttings in the design you want in the frame. Push a chopstick or pencil through one square of the wire grid and into the soil. This will create a hole where the succulent will be placed, and allow it to root.

  8. Fill with Plants

    Place the stem of a succulent cutting, such as this mother of pearl plant (Graptopetalum paraguayense) into the planting hole. Be sure to allow the leaf rosette to rest on top of the wire grid. It's not necessary to dip cuttings in rooting hormone ($6, Walmart), since succulents root easily in soil, but it can help speed the process.

    Related: How to Propagate Succulents

  9. Create the Design

    create design
    Peter Krumhardt

    Tuck in the larger plants first. Plant the succulents as close together as the grid allows. Depending on plant size, not every square will be planted. Right after you've planted, you may see hints of the wire, but as the succulents grow, they'll close the gaps.

  10. Let It Root

    succulent picture
    Peter Krumhardt

    After you've planted your design, keep the frame flat and out of direct sunlight for a week or two to allow the stems to form roots. For additional security, support the stems with floral pins or crafts clips. Gradually increase the light levels to full sun exposure. Don't water the first two weeks.

  11. Put it on Display

    succulent picture metal frame
    Peter Krumhardt

    Set the living artwork on a table or shelf where it can be propped against a wall, or hang it on a wall using sturdy picture hooks. Water succulents once a month. Lay the frame on a flat surface and thoroughly moisten the soil. Don't hang it again before the frame is dry. In hot areas, protect the plants from midday sun. Indoors, set a living succulent picture near a south-facing window.

    Related: Top 10 Succulent Plants for the Home

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