O' Christmas Tree...
Now that the turkey and trimmings are finished and the venison's been put away, the next hunt will be for a fresh Christmas tree. Before you bundle up and head out, set some priorities for yourself. How important is fragrance to you? If it's number one, seek out a farm that has firs for sale (Balsam, Frasier and Douglas) because these are rated the highest for the aroma of the holidays. Needle retention, however, is likely to be at the top of most peoples list. If this is the case, the pines (Scotch, White, Austrian and Red) and the Douglas fir are rated excellent by expert evaluators. Any of the above is my preference.
Christmas tree farming, as with any other agricultural enterprise, is subject to a variety of challenges. Foremost among these is the threat of damage from deer feeding which can render a tree unsalable. A common response to this has been to grow spruces (White, Colorado and Norway) because their needles are stiff and sharp and least desired by deer. They tend to be a bit less expensive and less user friendly as well.
If you are not planning to cut your own tree, consider the many thousands for sale at retailers everywhere. Once you've narrowed your selection, tamp the trunk firmly on hard ground. If needles drop in abundance, the tree is probably not fresh enough to last through the holidays. On the other hand, if it appears to be a fresh one, when you get it home keep it cold and out of the sun and wind. An unheated basement or garage will do fine until you bring it inside. Just before installing it, make a fresh cut removing at least two inches from the bottom. Place immediately in warm water to initiate water uptake. This will be very notable the first days, so be sure the tree has a constant supply. Decorate to taste. Happy holiday.
Did You Know: Plant sucking insect pests like aphids and scales secrete a substance called honeydew, so called because of its very high sugar content. It forms in crystals on or near plants. It is a form of food that has been collected and eaten by people of Egypt, Syria and Israel for thousands of years. It is ancient. It is the Biblical "manna".
A Gardener's Winter Calendar
* Overgrown evergreen shrubs and trees can be cut back this month and used for holiday decorations. Just strip the lower foliage from branches and place in warm water.
* Mulching after the ground is frozen not only locks in the cold, it reduces the likelihood of frost heaving, and usually prevents small critters from setting up winter quarters in loose, warm and moist environs. They will have found other arrangements by the time the ground is hard.
* Pot up spring flowering bulbs. Pick your favorites. Plant so tips of bulbs are at the top of the soil level. Moisten soil, place pots in plastic bags and store in fridge or other cold place just above freezing. After eight to ten weeks, remove and put in a bright window. Voila! Blossoms in winter.
* After any heavy snowfall, gently remove potentially damaging snow loads from trees and shrubs as soon as possible.
* Keep bird feeders full and supply water daily.
* If deer are frequent visitors, protect your favorite shrubs from them as well as harsh winter winds with burlap or furring strip screens anchored to wooden stakes.
* Hardware cloth or other rodent protection should be in place around tree trunks to protect from girdling damage.
* On icy walkways and driveways where nearby plantings might suffer from salt damage, substitute kitty litter, sand, fertilizer, or wood ashes. Just keep a boot brush handy near entries.
From The Garden of Ed. Submitted for publication in The Towne Crier on December 3, 2002
© 2002 Ed Mues. All Rights Reserved.