In the Garden:
Besides the traditional poinsettias, consider other long-blooming plants, such as kalanchoe.
A Gardener's Holiday Season
Several years ago, I found myself spending almost as much time putting up and taking down holiday decorations as I spent enjoying them. Instead of becoming like Scrooge, I opted for a different path, one that focused on simplicity, yet encompassed the traditions of the season, particularly from a gardener's perspective. Now my holidays focus on fresh greens and flowering plants as well as a few special items that have a long family tradition.
Live Versus Living Christmas Trees
If you have a large enough yard, ambition, and a desire for the tree to be indoors for only a short period, consider getting a living Christmas tree -- just one year or as a family tradition for many years. Our region has a mild enough climate that a living Christmas tree should easily settle in when planted outdoors.
Choose the site in the yard and dig the hole before the ground freezes, then fill it with straw. Use straw to protect the fill soil from freezing as well. Choose a fairly small tree to improve your chances of success, and one that is either growing in a container or balled-and-burlapped. The tree should be kept indoors for a maximum of seven days before being planted outside.
For details on how to successfully care for a living Christmas tree, visit the Web site of the Iowa State University Forestry Extension: http://www.forestry.iastate.edu/ext/livechris.html.
The more traditional live tree can be chosen from a tree lot or cut fresh at a tree farm. Whichever one you choose, when you're ready to set up the tree, cut at least an inch or so from the bottom of the trunk, place it into a tree stand, and immediately fill the stand with water. Replenish the water as needed so that it never goes below the bottom cut surface of the trunk.
For lots more information about Christmas trees, visit the Christmas Trees and More Web site of the University of Illinois Extension: http://www.urbanext.uiuc.edu/trees.
Greenery and Flowers
No manmade decoration can compare with natural materials. (At least that is this person's opinion.) Four or five poinsettias set around the house immediately makes for a festive feeling. There are so many wonderful colors and forms of poinsettias now. Add some robust amaryllis and fragrant paper white narcissus, and it's starting to feel like a party.
Stores offer other holiday plants as well, including kalanchoe, Christmas cacti, and azaleas. Another one that is showing up more and more is a rosemary plant trained into a Christmas tree shape; also consider ivy topiaries.
One key to having holiday plants look their best for the longest time is to choose ones that have been well cared for and either still have buds or are just beginning to bloom. Once home, avoid placing the plants where they'll get cold drafts. Make sure the pots have good drainage so that plants don't stand in water, and keep the soil evenly moist.
Buy some fresh cut flowers, too, and be sure to have lots of cut greenery, either from your own yard or purchased. Even something as simple as a vase filled with pine boughs adds charm to a room. Look beyond greens as well. Bare branches filling a vase and decorated with a few of your most special ornaments has a dramatic effect.
To learn more about choosing and caring for flowers and greenery, check out this site from the University of Illinois Extension: http://www.urbanext.uiuc.edu/trees/flowersgreen.html.
As a final touch, bring in garden ornaments and outdoor architectural items, such as finials, gazing balls, urns, and statuary, and make use of them indoors as another way of having a garden-inspired holiday.
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