FIXING THEM UP ...

First, cut off that garish, fake red velvet bow and throw the nasty thing away. To a basic wreath of white pine, boxwood or yew, try adding dried and fresh herbs and berries. Or add Spanish, sheet or reindeer moss along with rose hips and pieces of curly willow. Lavender, rosemary, sage and tarragon all add interest. Work the herbs into the wreath and mist as needed. To "gild" a wreath, combine dried yellow yarrow with pine cones and oak leaves that have been pressed and lightly sprayed with gold paint. To a spruce wreath, decorate with seed pods, white pine cones, dried berries and Spanish moss. To a boxwood wreath, embellish with artificial pears, cinnamon sticks, dried artichokes, a lotus pod and a bow. If you're not using natural, pick good fakes. There is a distinct difference in the look between cheap "berries" and more expensive ones. There should be no stigma to buying wreaths that started life in an oil refinery. Look for variety in how the needles are colored, for example, to get the most real-looking fake. Want your fake to smell good? Try a bottle of Thymes Frasier Fir oil. Just stick it in the diffuser, let it waft, and prepare yourself for a real wreath smell.

... AND KEEPING THEM FRESH

Hose the greens or wreath well and store in plastic trash bags in a cold room until needed. The day before use, recut the stems and soak for several hours in warm water. Treat with a sealer, available as a spray or as a concentrate that can be made into a dip. One popular brand is Wilt-Pruf, an antidesiccant. Expose treated greenery to sunlight to set up the sealer. One caveat: The sealer causes some berries to blacken. Treat deciduous holly berries with a florist's glaze or acrylic floor wax, applied with a spray bottle. Allow to dry and repeat three times. Coat fruit and pine cones in paraffin wax. Insert a skewer into the fruit's blossom end to dip. Orange slices are made durable by first treating in a food dehydrator before being dipped in paraffin. Pomegranates should be purchased kiln-dried from a florist or garden center. Bake chestnuts, buckeyes, hazelnuts, hickories, acorns and English walnuts in a 250-degree oven for a few minutes and cool overnight to kill any insects. Drill through the hull near the base and wire the nuts like a cluster of grapes. Keep live greens watered indoors by using a wreath frame. Generally, they're not found in ready-made wreaths. One alternative: a ring of Oasis foam that is moistened and then wrapped before being wired with greens.

ADRIAN HIGGINS WASHINGTON POST