Middle South

December, 2010
Regional Report

Care for Christmas Cactus

Most of my holiday plants are discarded after they begin to decline, but I find Christmas cactus is easy to grow and will bloom again at the right time with little trouble. Simply keep the plant in a cool and sunny spot until spring, and then move it outdoors to a shady location for summer. Throughout the year, water when the top inch of soil feels dry. In September, reduce water and place the plant in a cool spot to rest (under 65 degrees F in daytime and around 50 at night) for about six weeks. Then, move the plant to a warmer place and begin to water again. Once buds form, fertilize with a dilute liquid fertilizer every two weeks until bloom.

Treat the Birds

Even if you routinely supply seeds for the birds, a cold snap is a good excuse to give them an extra treat or two. Nuts and fruits, especially pomegranates, are always eagerly devoured, as is suet. Make a homemade mix by melting a cup of shortening and adding an equal measure of peanut butter, flour, cornmeal, and quick-cooking oats, and enrich with a handful of seeds or dried fruits, such as raisins.

Add Colorful Berries for Winter Interest

If winter's subdued colors are too subtle for your taste, look for plants that produce berries, hips and other colorful fruits for an occasional zip of vibrant color. You know holly, nandina and rugosa roses, of course. More unusual choices include Ruscus, an old favorite called butcher's broom that thrives in shade and bears bright red, oblong berries; Cocculus, a native, sun-loving vine known as Carolina moonseed that makes clusters of red drupes; and Callicarpa, aptly called beautyberry, an easy-to-grow shrub that produces clusters of purple, violet or white berries along its stems when grown in sun or light shade.

Make a Mini Storage Shed

Mount a mailbox on a wall, fence, or post to keep gloves, small tools, twine, scissors, and a basic first-aid kit close at hand and you'll save yourself time and steps in the garden. If you prefer something more rustic and less obtrusive, hang a terra-cotta pot or two (horizontally, with a hook or nail through the drainage hole).

Trap Gnats

If gnats are breeding in one or more of your houseplants, you can lure them with a small bowl filled with a mix of half water and half apple cider vinegar. Put the bowl near the source of trouble and watch the insects dive in. Clean and refill every couple of days. This trap also works for annoying fruit flies.

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