November 27, 2012
Arboretum Director Jenny Rose Carey offers tips for choosing and caring for holiday greenery
With the holiday season underway and outside foliage shifting from fall flourishes to stark winter landscapes, many households are making the annual trek out to find that perfect indoor greenery to accompany the ribbons, boxes, lights, and bows.
From Christmas trees to holly branches, according to Jenny Rose Carey, Director of the Ambler Arboretum of Temple University, 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 bringing evergreen branches inside, said Carey. There are several types to look for including needle leafed conifers, yew, and holly with its 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,” she said. “As Christianity spread through Europe, the green 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, Carey said, are easy to make with a 12 to 16-inch wire circle and thin green paddle wire, available from craft stores.
“Gather up some greenery from holly, firs, pines, spruces, arborvitae, and cedar. Make small bundles of greens by wrapping the wire around the bunches. Lay the bundles at a diagonal angle — all facing the same direction around the circle,” she said. “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.”
For the romantics, of course, there is the traditional bunch of mistletoe; through the plant itself is decidedly less than romantic.
“Mistletoe is a semi-parasitic plant that lives in the bark of trees, such as apple trees. It has spherical white fruit that are carried by birds to other trees,” Carey said. “Mistletoe has long been hung over doorways. The tradition of kissing under the mistletoe to bring good luck in the coming year is another ancient rite that dates to ancient times and has been adapted for modern life.”
Finding just the right Christmas tree is one the most important searches of the season for many families. As the centerpiece of seasonal decoration, not just any tree will do — just ask the Griswolds in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. Carey recommends putting any cut trees to the test before taking them home.
“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,” she said. “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. You can find several lists of local Christmas tree farms on the Web and buying local helps to preserve local farmland.”
When you return home with your prized tree, “only bring it inside when you are ready to decorate,” Carey said.
“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,” she said. “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.”
Carey said a great alternative to cut trees are live, potted trees, which can then be planted after the season.
“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,” she said. “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.”
After enjoying the tree inside, Carey said, take it outside “and plant it if the weather cooperates.”
“Dig the hole now if you know that you will be getting a live tree - be sure to cover the hole if you're not going to immediately plant the tree to avoid any unexpected accidents,” she said. “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.”
For more holiday greenery tips, contact the Ambler Arboretum at email@example.com.
CONTACT: James Duffy, 267-468-8108, firstname.lastname@example.org