Enjoy Hot Chocolate with a Pinch of Chile Pepper
Chocolate and chile pepper go together like bread and butter. (Better, actually, because, well, it's chocolate!) Rich, spicy, and aromatic hot chocolate with a pinch of crushed/dried chile pepper is a beverage that dates back hundreds of years and makes a luscious holiday treat. Experiment with additions of cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla bean, and finely ground nuts per your taste buds. Stick with real chocolate (as opposed to instant mixes) for maximum effect.
Force Fragrant Paperwhite Bulbs
Their heavenly scent permeates a room. Bulbs can be planted in potting soil or set in containers of all sizes filled with pebbles, marbles, polished glass shards, or similar materials. Cover the bulbs to just below their "shoulders" with whatever planting medium you use. It's fun for kids to plant paperwhites in clear glass containers (even a small jelly jar will do for one bulb) filled with marbles or pebbles, allowing them to track the root growth progress through the glass.
Water Holiday Flowers Correctly
When you water poinsettias, Christmas cacti, and other blooming potted plants, remove any decorative foil wraps, allowing water to drain completely out the bottom of the pot before rewrapping. If the wrap is left on and water accumulates, it promotes root rot and quick death. Also use a water-soluble fertilizer for flowering plants according to package instructions.
Help Your Cut Christmas Tree Survive the Holidays
Start by buying as fresh a tree as possible. Grasp a stem between thumb and finger and gently pull it toward you. Very few needles should fall off. If you end up with a handful, keep looking for a fresher tree. When the tree was harvested, a seal of sap immediately started forming over the cut, which inhibits water from being absorbed. If water can't be absorbed, the needles will quickly dry and drop, creating a fire hazard. Before you set the tree in its stand, saw off up to one inch of the trunk. Most tree sellers will do this for you, but hurry home with your tree and get it into the stand with water immediately or it will quickly reform that seal. On the first day, check several times to ensure the stand is full of water because a tree can absorb a gallon to make up for lost time. Check daily thereafter.
Investigate Rose Varieties
Bare-root roses are planted in December and January in the low desert and February and March at higher elevations. Do you want to add a particular color or fragrance to your rose garden? Start perusing catalogs, books, and websites for varieties that interest you. If you do not already belong, attend a local rose club meeting or visit a rose demonstration garden to gather ideas. Consider selections with high ratings from the All-America Rose Society (AARS) because those plants have been tested in a variety of conditions and are most likely to thrive.