Holiday Decorating using Fresh Evergreens

Hoilday Evergreens in Container

Holiday Evergreens in container

Fresh greenery/evergreens can be found in your own garden or purchased  from a local garden center. The most common evergreen cuttings you can use for holiday decorating are Pine, Junipers, Cedars, Firs, Spruce, Ivy, Holly, Mountain Laurel, Boxwood and Magnolia.  Other lasting decorations include pine cones, seed pods, winterberries, dried hydrangea flowers, dried leaves, Red Twig Dogwood and Curly Willow branches. (I encourage you to not use Oriental Bittersweet in decorations as it is on the New England invasive plant list).

When cutting evergreen branches off of trees and shrubs, use clean, sharp pruners to prevent disease or fungal spread. With store bought greens be sure to cut 1/2 inch off of the bottom of each stem at an angle. While cutting branches and also creating your arrangements, wear water proof garden gloves or kitchen rubber gloves to keep any branch sap from getting on your hands. Sap isn’t easy to wash off. With a hammer, crush the cut branch ends of all greens and put into water immediately to absorb moisture more easily overnight or until ready to use.

If the greenery will be kept in water for more than a few days, add a packet of florist floral food to prevent bacteria from growing. And (optional), to keep the foliage in your arrangements from drying out, spray the foliage with the anti-desiccant, Wilt Pruf or Wilt Stop to help seal in moisture (don’t spray juniper berries, cedar or blue spruce).

Fresh greenery can be displayed outdoors in window boxes and containers, or as swags, garlands or wreaths; both outdoors or indoors. Indoor arrangements should be placed away from heat sources, lit candles, fireplaces, and sunny windows. Note: Poisonous berries are found on holly plants, yews, ivy plants, mistletoe, bittersweet, Jerusalem cherry and crown of thorns; so keep these plants and berries away from pets and young children.

Judy Eisenberg, of Sun and Shade Gardening, offers special deals on designing and arranging winter holiday decorations indoors and outdoors. You can contact her at:

tags: Holiday evergreens, decorating with fresh evergreens, winter plant containers, fresh cut evergreens, Swags, evergreen decorations, Somerville, MA. Custom designed evergreen arrangements, bouquets, holly berries,

‘Putting the Garden To Bed’

As freezing temperatures set in and the plants in your garden die back, it’s time to ‘Put the Garden to Bed’ for the winter. This means taking care of the following tasks that will prepare your garden for winter endurance and get it in good shape for spring.

1. Lawns: Mow grass to 2 or 2.5 inches. Rake up all leaves and heavy grass clippings. Fertilize lawn for the last time until spring with 5-10-10.
2. Leaves: Non-diseased leaves make good mulch until spring, especially if shredded.
3. Weeds: Dig up and put in lawn bags.
4. Perennials: Cut down to 2 to 3 inches. Compost non-diseased cuttings. Birds eat the seeds of black-eyed Susan and coneflowers, so over-winter if you’d like.
5. Ornamental Grasses: For winter interest, winter-over and cut back in early spring.
6. Annuals: Pull up by the roots and compost non-diseased residue.
7. Vegetables: Same as annuals, but, turn the soil. Apply 3 to 4 inches of organic compost to vegetable bed.
8. Shrubs: Do not prune spring flowering shrubs now. Remove dead wood anytime.
9. Compost: (winter nourishment) Spread 1 inch on beds before the ground freezes.
10. Mulch: (winter blanket) Apply 3 inches once the ground freezes.

Invasive Black Swallowwort Vine

Black Swallowwort

Black Swallowwort is an invasive weed (imported from Europe about 200 years ago) called . It has been found growing in fields, the edges of woods, and in suburban and urban locations. Black Swallowwort is everywhere. It threatens native plant habitats and has been listed on the New England invasive plants list. Many people don’t know the vine’s negative consequences and think it’s just an attractive foliage plant growing on their fence.

Black Swallowwort is a member of the Milkweed family, but unlike Milkweed, it is not a reproductive food host like Milkweed is for the Monarch butterfly. Many Monarchs lay their eggs on Black Swallowwort leaves mistaking them for Milkweed. When the larvae eat the Swallowwort leaves which are toxic, they die. Unfortunately, this vine is encroaching on the Milkweed plants’ habitat.

The vine’s stems are narrow and the leaves which are opposite one another on the stem are oval, shiny dark green with pointed ends. In June and July you’ll notice tiny purple flowers on the plant. When the flowers finish blooming, green seed pods form that reminds one of string beans but look more like chili peppers. The pods turn light brown when ripe and then open up to reveal milkweed like seeds (small flat brown seed heads attached to plumes of silky white hair) that are dispersed by the wind.

Getting rid of this noxious vine is very difficult. Just pulling the vine out of the ground doesn’t remove all of its roots. It has a complex root system most likely entwined with other plant roots, and the root crown and even the tiny white roots you’ll find, must be dug completely out of the ground to prevent more plants from coming up. If you notice tiny Black Swallowwort seedlings popping up around the larger vines, dig them up also.

If you can’t successfully remove the vine, use a scissor or your fingers to take off the seed pods before they become ripe. Put the pods into a heavy duty black plastic bag, seal it with a twist tie, and put the bag in the trash. Don’t put pods in your compost pile or in a lawn bag that will be recycled. Other controls include mowing the vine just as the pods are forming to prevent seed production, or applying a triclopyr-based herbicide such as Roundup Pro before pods form. (Caution: Roundup Pro will kill surrounding plants if it comes in contact with them. Use herbicides responsibly and consult a professional if needed.)

There are a number of garden tasks to do in September. These include the following:

• Lawn: Improve patchy or compacted areas by aerating with a pitchfork, over-seeding, and top-dressing with 1/2 to 1 inch of compost. Fertilize with 5-10-10 (can also do in October).
• Roses: Remove any diseased rose leaves from rose beds, control black-spot on the shrub with a fungicide spray (can do this throughout the summer), leave rose hips to promote dormancy, for winter color, and as nourishment for the birds.
• Continue to deadhead flowering plants (leave purple coneflower seed heads for birds). Good time to plant trees, shrubs, perennials, and best time to plant peonies. Wait until next spring to plant Azaleas and Rhododendrons.
• Peony, viburnum and hydrangea should be fertilized with bone meal.
• ‘Winterize’ trees and shrubs by watering deeply when there’s not been sufficient rain.
• Keep pulling weeds (best to do when ground is moist but not soaking wet).
• When raspberry canes have finished fruiting, cut them off. Stake new canes.
• Divide perennials, and either replant divisions or give them away.
• Begin planting spring blooming bulbs like daffodils, crocus and other small bulbs in mid-September. You can plant tulips as late as November. Scratch bulb booster into the top area of soil once you’ve planted the bulbs, and not into the bottom of the hole as it may burn the bulbs.
• Plant winter-hardy pansies, and annuals calendula, dianthus and ornamental cabbage
• Don’t trim hedges until next spring
• Bring houseplants indoors to acclimate before you turn the heat on

Plants that Attract Butterflies

Different flowering plants attract different butterfly species. Listed below, are some of the food source plants that a few butterflies and their caterpillars feed on in the Boston area.

Monarch caterpillars feed only on the Milkweed plant leaves, and adult Monarchs feed on nectar from Milkweed, Aster, Goldenrod, Thistle and Mint.

Painted Lady caterpillars feed on Hollyhock, Mallow Thistle and Legume leaves, while adults sip nectar from Milkweed, Asters, Cosmos, Ironweed, and Joe-Pye Weed.

Black Swallowtail caterpillars feed on Carrot, Celery, Dill, Queen Anne’s Lace plants. The adults feed on Milkweed, Red Clover, Thistle flowers.

Cabbage White caterpillars feed on Cabbage, Broccoli, Kale and Radish leaves. Adults get nectar from Asters, Red Clover, Dandelions, Mustards and Mint.

Some other butterfly attracting plants include Butterfly Weed, Marigolds, Snapdragons, Jewel Weed, Lantana, Phlox, Zinnias, Purple Coneflowers, Black-Eyed Susan’s and Sunflowers. For other butterfly species seen in Massachusetts:

Butterflies like an open sunny area protected from wind. Birds are butterfly predators, so do not place bird feeders near the plants. Flat stones provide a warm spot for butterflies to bask. And, butterflies need more than nectar to survive; so provide them with shallow mud-puddles for minerals and salts.

NOTE: The Monarch butterfly often mistakes the highly invasive Black Swallowwort vine (in the milkweed family) for Common Milkweed, and lays its eggs on the vine’s toxic leaves. When the Monarch larvae develop into caterpillars, they eat the leaves and die. So, it is very important to eradicate the Black Swallowwort vine. You’ll find this vine climbing up fences, shrubs, and plants in urban and suburban areas.

Garden Q & A Column: Decorating with Live Christmas Trees

Q. My housemates and I want to purchase a live Christmas tree to bring indoors and decorate. What type of tree should we buy? How do we care for the tree and can we plant it outside after the holidays?

John C, Somerville, MA

A. Yes, you can plant your Christmas tree outside after the holidays. Live evergreen trees that will survive in zones 4-6 are Dwarf Alberta Spruces, Blue Spruce, Yews, and Arborvitaes. Pick a healthy tree that matures to a size appropriate for your yard. The root-ball should be firm and rounded. Before the ground freezes, dig a hole for the tree as deep as its root-ball and twice as wide and fill it with straw or leaves. Bag up the soil and bring it inside so it doesn’t freeze. (If the ground is already frozen, I recommend you wait until next year to use a live Christmas tree)

To transition the tree from the outdoors to a warmer environment, put it in a garage or unheated porch for a couple of days. Then, display the tree indoors in a room as cool as possible. Keep the root-ball evenly moist but not soggy, by placing the tree in a container with sand or gravel at the bottom for good drainage. Water as needed. Turn the tree’s decorative lights on only when you are in the room.

After the holidays, put the tree in the garage or porch again for a few days before you move it outdoors to plant. Then remove any materials that were used to bind the roots and plant the tree in the prepared hole. As you back fill the hole, pack down the soil and put six inches of mulch around the tree, but not up against the trunk. In the spring, fertilize the tree with Holly Tone and water well the first year.

Garden Q & A Column: Gardening Tips for New Gardeners

Q. I have never done gardening before and would like to give it a try. Do you have any tips for me?  Stuart, Concord, MA

A. Here are some tips for beginning gardeners to follow:

  • Decide the amount of time and money you’d like to spend on your gardening project. It’s best to begin with a small garden as there will be a lot to do.
  • Learn about the areas where you will be gardening before you purchase any plants and plant them. Is it sunny or shady? Windy or protected? You should put the right plant in the right place.
  • Check out the soil to see if it is sandy, clay-like, rocky or loose. No matter the condition of the soil, dig in some organic compost to enrich it.
  • Buy some basic gardening tools; a trowel, spade, shovel, rake, hand pruner, a garden hose and nozzle.
  • Learn about plants, particularly the ones you like, by reading gardening books, reviewing garden labels at a garden center, asking knowledgeable gardeners, joining a local garden club.
  • Follow the basic plant care listed on plant tags. Water, fertilize and prune regularly.
  • Learn to identify pest, disease and environmental stressor symptoms before they become problems. This gives you time to respond and take care of them.
  • Keep a journal and record what has worked and not worked in the garden. Refer to it when planning for next year’s gardening.

To view this Q & A via the Somerville Journal,

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