So, you shop for your perfect Christmas Tree, if you haven’t done so already. All you need now is just a little guidance to help you choose the right one.
As you shop, keep in mind that the right tree will feel pliable and soft, even on varieties with stiff needles, such as spruces.
Bang the bottom of the tree on a solid surface once or twice to see if the needles are ready to fall, it’s okay if some brown or yellow needles drop, but the tree shouldn’t shed any green ones.
Bring your tree stand to make sure the trunk will fit.
Freshly cut Christmas trees generally hold their needles the best, so cutting your own is the only way to guarantee its freshness.
After you bring the tree home, use a bow saw to cut two inches off the bottom of the trunk, and place the tree in water in your garage or another location close to the house.
When you are ready to bring the tree indoors, make a fresh cut on the bottom of the trunk.
Introduce the tree to room temperature one day before decorating, allowing its branches to open completely.
Set it in a stand that’s big enough to provide stability and large enough to hold water for the tree’s daily needs.
Use a hand pruner or pruning saw to shape the tree for a balanced appearance and to make room underneath for gifts.
Make sure to cut away from your body and from other people while pruning.
There are several important safety tips for homeowners to remember.
Trees should be kept well away from fireplaces and at least three feet from any heating sources, and they should not be placed near exits.
When using decorative lights, use only those that carry a UL approved tag, and be sure to turn off the lights when you go to bed or leave the house.
Local fire marshals also recommend strongly that trees be kept indoors for as brief a period as possible.
More information on holiday safety is available at http://www.kate.net/holidays/christmas/holidaysafety.html
The American National Christmas Tree Association, which represents growers of holiday trees, says that homeowners should not add products such as fertilizer, bleach or aspirin to water to make trees last longer.
“Research has shown that plain tap water is by far the best” according to their web site. “Some commercial additives and home concoctions can actually be detrimental to a tree’s moisture retention and increase needle loss”.
A Christmas tree can take, on average, six to 10 years to mature to a suitable size. Each year 73 million new trees are planted, according to the tree growers association. But if you’re worried about the impact of all those holiday trees on the environment, take heart: Christmas tree farming does bring some benefits. A renewable resource, the trees boost air quality by generating oxygen and reducing carbon dioxide and particulate pollution. Tree growth also helps to stabilize soil, protect water supplies and provide refuge for wildlife.
Once the holidays are over, homeowners face a new question: What to do with the tree? Local jurisdictions typically schedule pickup for discarded Christmas trees, which are chipped and added to Municipal leaf piles for compost. Most trees, in fact, end up providing a rich source of compost material. Many unsold trees also enter the chipper thus contributing to enriching the soil.
You can do your own post-Christmas composting in a few easy steps >
First, prune the limbs off the main trunk.
Then strip the smaller woody stems off the main branches, putting the needle-rich stems in your compost pile. The needles will add nitrogen, while the wood stems will add carbon.
The trunk and main branches can be placed curbside for pickup.
If you find a cone on your tree, remove it and allow to dry outside over winter. Peel back its “armor” in the spring to reveal the seeds hiding behind each woody scale. Plant the seeds in sunny spots. In 6 to 10 years, with proper soil, sun, moisture, pruning and temperatures, you may have a homegrown Christmas tree or two.
Your old Christmas tree can also be used to create a wildlife habitat >
Lay the tree in the back of your garden, slightly out of view.
Allow it collect leaf litter and plant debris.
Place a hollow log or a dead shrub behind it. Squirrels, rabbits, foxes, toads, turtles and birds depend on this type of protected area for nesting and shelter from predators.
As the tree decays, it will provide food for insects and worms that will in turn be eaten by birds.
Evergreen limbs can also be used as protection from wind or freeze damage for plants such as rosemary, loropetalum, or the roots of tender perennials and bulbs such as canna and dahlia. Lay the branches lightly, just one or two thick, as blankets over the desired area. Remove branches as growth resumes in the spring.
Some people are brave enough to bring home a live tree that can be planted in their yard. If this is what you have in mind, go to a garden center or tree seller that has experience with growing them. Live trees can be planted right after Christmas, but now is the time to dig and prepare the hole and put soil for planting the tree in an area where it won’t freeze. The trees adapt well in humus-laden, well-drained soil, with sunlight. Of course, until you plant the tree, cover the pre-dug hole with thick plywood, for safety. Keep the root ball moist and take the live tree out of the house within a week after the holiday to keep it from breaking dormancy.
Plant of the month > Paper Whites >
Paper Whites belong to the Narcissus family and are usually the first indoor bulbs to flower. They take only about four to six weeks from planting, so if you want them for Christmas don’t delay and get them into a pot straight away.
There are two methods of growing them. One is to plant them in compost and the other is to grow them in water. For the first method use a shallow pot without drainage holes and after putting a few small stones in the bottom for weight, add some potting compost and sit the bulbs firmly on this. Do not let the bulbs touch each other or the side of the pots. Fill with compost but leave the tops of the bulbs exposed. Give them a little water and put them in a cool shaded place until shoots appear. They will grow fast once they have started.
The other way is to grow them in a glass jar or bowl with some pretty pebbles, stones or shells in the bottom and sit the bulbs firmly on them. Add water to just below the bulb and keep it topped up at that level. Keep the bowl in a well lit position and wait for the lovely flowers to appear.
The sweetly perfumed flowers grow in clusters and there maybe five or six or even more to each stem. They look like little white stars and can last up to two or three weeks. They were originally natives of the western Mediterranean but these days they can be grown successfully all around the world.
Even though the days are shorter there is still plenty to do in the garden
As Christmas gets nearer and the days get shorter, there is less inclination to work outside in the garden. There are lots of jobs you can do though if you can take the time off from Christmas shopping and baking, such as weeding and replanting your planters with winter pansies or petunias, if you haven’t managed to do so already.
You may find that your roses have been waving around in the wind if you haven’t shortened them by half already and it is a good idea to firm them in all the way round with your foot. There is a wonderful supply of bare root roses in the garden centres at the moment with many named varieties, which is most unusual for here!
Even if you are busy, do find time to give the fruit and nut trees their first feed of the winter though. Hopefully your garden chemical shop will have a supply of 20.10.10 fertiliser. If they don’t have that formula, try to get something as near to those numbers as you can. You need three cupfuls for around the base of mature trees and 1 cupful for smaller trees. Fork this in around the tree root area.
The numbering system used in fertilisers is listed on the back of packets or containers of fertiliser. The first number denotes Nitrogen (N) for green leaves, next is Phosphorous (P) for flowers and roots and the last large number is Potassium (K) for flowers and fruits. You will see lots of other items listed in smaller amounts and these are called ‘trace elements,’ including Iron and Zinc and along with the NPK they make up the nutrition that all plants need to thrive.
So having fed your trees, it is time to think about pruning them. Some trees, like fig trees and pecans, can be pruned this month. Pecan trees will grow to enormous heights and if you don’t keep them to a manageable size then you will not be able to crop the nuts, as they will be beyond your reach. Loquats, in full blossom this month and smelling like baby’s talcum powder, can be pruned after fruiting in April. They are very accommodating trees needing little attention other than to take out crossing or weak branches and kept to a reasonable height. Most of the prunus and citrus trees are pruned in February or even January.
Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas these days without the ubiquitous Poinsettia. During the summer while you were lounging on the beach or sipping your G&T or Brandy Sour in the garden, huge boxes of small plantlets were flown in from Holland for the local nurserymen to pot up and get them into shape for your Christmas celebrations. Now as they have turned from green into red they are bundled into cellophane wraps and ready to buy. They have been growing in controlled temperatures until now, and as they don’t like cold weather or draughts try not to buy them from an outside display and certainly don’t let the shop assistant spray the leaves with leaf shine as they are naturally matt.
Unwrap them carefully when you get them home as their stems are very brittle and may bleed from the leaf joint where they come off. Watch out for any sap as it can cause rashes on sensitive skin. To keep the plants looking their best, check the moisture content of the soil and if the compost is dry, run some water through the pot and let it drain away. Don’t let stand the pot in a container or saucer of water. Keep it in a bright spot out of the sun and draughts and certainly not on a windowsill between the curtains!
Poinsettias have wonderful common names like ‘Christmas Stars’ or ‘Short Day Plants’ and these days come in pinks and creams as well as the more usual glowing reds. Some people have them growing in their gardens, which is fine as long as there are no severe frosts during the winter. There are two large ones growing in the grounds of the Terra Santa Church in Larnaca, Cyprus and doubtless many others in sheltered spots around the island. If you look closely at the flowers and compare them with potted poinsettias you will see that the yellow centres (the real flowers) are much larger on the trees.
Other popular plants in the garden centres at this time of year are cyclamen in a myriad of colours and of course Christmas Cactus, whose flowers burst out from the stem ends in pinks and reds. These can grow to enormous proportions when they live in a suitable place. If you are looking for something unusual then try Guzmanias, quite striking plants, with leaves forming an urn shape, which is where they collect moisture and where you water them, but only sparingly!
If you want to have a real Christmas tree, watch for the Forestry Department announcement in the newspapers as to where they will be sold. Norway Spruce is the tree most grown in UK for the Christmas tree market but you will not find real ones here. However, the shops are full of imported fake trees, some of which are very good quality. They are mostly made in China, where else, along with the countless baubles with which we decorate them.
If you like natural foliage to decorate your house at Christmas time there is plenty of ivy in different shapes and forms, scrambling along the ground or tumbling over walls and fences. It may be difficult to find holly bushes although Solomou Nursery in Nisou village has potted ones already shaped into topiaries and some even have berries. There are one or two hollies which are self fertile, but normally you need to have a male and a female plant in order to have berries. A pretty substitute for holly could be Osmanthus, with its bright green freckled leaves looking just like the real thing but you may have to resort to the fake Chinese kind.
Whichever you choose, enjoy your Christmas and the New Year!