University of Vermont Extension 
Department of Plant and Soil Science

Winter News Article


By Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor
University of Vermont

If you are like me, your mind is on Christmas, not gardening, this month. But if you think about it, many holiday activities are actually related to gardening.

First, there's the selection of a Christmas tree. If you buy a cut tree, be sure to check for freshness by bending the needles or bouncing the stump end of the tree on the ground to check for needle "fall out."

Or you might prefer to buy a live tree, which can be planted outdoors after the holidays and enjoyed for many years to come. Select one that is potted in a bushel basket or other large container or balled with burlap with a large, firm root ball. Choose a uniformly shaped tree with no signs of broken branches, dried out foliage, or poor color.

In addition to the tree, you'll probably want to buy a few holiday plants to decorate your home. Poinsettias are a favorite choice, or try something a bit more unusual like a cyclamen or kalanchoe. Again, select carefully, buying only healthy plants with no evidence of disease or insect injury.

If you have the time, try your hand at making your own natural holiday decorations. You can make your home more festive by creating door sprays, wreaths, and centerpieces using evergreen boughs, pine cones, and other natural materials. Prolong the life of your decorations by spraying with an antidesiccant spray.

Give your philodendrons, dracaenas, rubber plants, and other large-leafed houseplants a bath this month by gently washing the foliage on both sides with a sponge dipped in soapy water. Mild dish detergent works fine. This removes the grime and allows the pores of the leaves to breathe more freely. And while you're at it, check for insect pests and treat accordingly.

Don't forget to stock up on birdseed and keep those feeders full this winter. If you are interested in attracting certain species of birds, ask your garden store dealer for recommendations.

You also may want to stock up on kitty litter, sand, and plant fertilizer soon. They all make good substitutes for salt, which can run off into the grass and "poison the soil" when used to melt ice off walks and driveways.

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