Now that we are in the thick of the holiday season — the garden outside a bit frosted — our thoughts turn naturally to what we can be growing inside in the winter.
There are several ways that you can continue to be surrounded by greenery in the home during the winter months.
A traditional part of holiday decorating is to bring evergreen branches into the house. There are several types to look for including the needle leaved conifers, yew, and also holly with bright red berries.
The tradition of bringing in winter evergreens actually pre-dates Christianity. For Celts and Romans, the time of the Winter Solstice (December 21 to 22 — the shortest day of the year) was the time to celebrate the fact that the days were getting longer. They also used evergreens to ward off evil spirits.
As Christianity spread through Europe, the greens tradition continued, but to celebrate Christmas and not the Solstice. Today we use evergreens in table decorations, on the mantle, and also to make evergreen wreaths for the front door.
Wreaths are easy to make with a 12 to 16-inch wire circle and thin green paddle wire, available from craft stores. Gather some of the following greens: Holly, Firs, Pines, Spruces, Arborvitae, and Cedar. Make small bundles of greens by wrapping the wire around bunches. Lay the bundles at a diagonal angle — all facing the same direction around the circle. Wire them to the circle one by one, overlapping them as you go. Use plenty of greens as it should look very full. Overlap the last over the first. Tie off the wire and make a wire loop to hang it on your door.
The final green item to bring into the house is the traditional bunch of Mistletoe. Mistletoe is a semi-parasitic plant that lives in the bark of trees such as Apple. It has spherical white fruit that are carried by the birds to other trees. Mistletoe has long been hung over doorways. The tradition is for a couple to kiss under the mistletoe, bringing them good luck in the coming year. This is another ancient rite that dates to ancient times and has been adapted for modern life.
Cut Christmas trees are really just a larger version of the cut evergreen branches. Like the branches, the first safety issue is to make sure that the tree is freshly cut. If buying one that is already cut, shake the tree to make sure the needles stay on. Also make sure that the branches are springy and flexible. Luckily in the Delaware Valley there are many places to go and cut your own tree. There are lists of Christmas tree farms on the Web.
Buying a live tree helps to put oxygen into the air and also to preserve local farmland in our communities. It is part of the Grow Local, Buy Local campaign in Pennsylvania.
When you return home, only bring your tree inside when you are ready to decorate. If the tree has been standing around outside, use a small saw to re-cut the trunk; this helps the tree to absorb more water. During the first few days inside, your tree will absorb the most water. Check the tree a couple of times a day and add water to the tree stand as necessary. Sit the tree away from the fireplace. If the tree is at all wobbly, tie it to a securely fastened curtain rod or other solid structure.
If you are bringing in a potted, live Christmas tree, make sure that it only stays inside for a week at the most. The home environment is not a good one for a live tree. Put the potted tree into a decorative pot that can hold water. Water if the root ball is dry, but do not drown the roots. Place the tree in your home in a cool place, away from fires, radiators and air vents. When you have enjoyed your tree inside, take it outside, and plant it if the weather cooperates. One great tip is to dig the hole now if you know that you will be getting a live tree. Keep a wheelbarrow full of soil in the garage, this unfrozen soil will be used to back fill the hole so that you can cover the roots and finish planting the tree.
Most gardeners like to have some growing things to tend to on their windowsills for the winter. There are many different plants that you can use to decorate your house at this time of year. They range from the ever popular Poinsettia from Mexico, to the traditional bowls of paper white bulbs grown in a bed of rocks and water. One other spectacular plant that can easily be grown from a bulb is the Amaryllis.
Amaryllis flowers come in white, pink, red, coral and also some great bi-colors. Amaryllis is easily grown from bulbs that are readily available at garden centers, hardware stores, and even box stores.
Basically, the big bulb is ready to produce stunning flower stalks once planted half to three-quarters of the way into a pot of potting compost in a pot with a drainage hole at the bottom. Choose a pot that is just a little bigger than the bulb.
When potted up, water well. Place the pot on a warm, sunny windowsill. Water when the potting compost feels dry. As the flower shoot begins to grow, water more often. It is at this point the plant makes a good science experiment. If you measure the flower spike every day you will be amazed at the rapid growth.
Rotate the pot so that the spike does not grow towards the light. Use a stake for support if necessary. As the flower opens it looks rather like a lily, to which it is distantly related. Often if you have chosen a big bulb, there is a second flower stalk. Cut off the first one when it is faded. Not only will you have a spectacular conversation piece for your winter visitors but you have a little touch of spring into your own life while it is still cold outside.
If you have any questions please feel free to email me at email@example.com.
Jenny Rose Carey
Landscape Arboretum of Temple University Ambler