Thursday, December 22, 2022

Reusing Christmas Trees for Any Skill Level

A woman in a blue puffy coat holding a spindly Christmas tree.

Whether you are a person that takes down their Christmas tree before New Year’s Eve or someone who waits until way into January, you still have to decide what to do with it once it’s stripped bare. If your tree is artificial you most likely just stuff it in the box, but real trees have to be disposed of somehow. There are a lot of ways to do this; some are easy, but others require tools and motivation. Here are some ideas based on just how much work you want to do.

- The Simplest Ways –

A sign saying Christmas Tree Recycling.
Recycle It - Most communities in the U.S. have some sort of tree recycling program and it’s usually available to both apartment dwellers and single-family homes. They usually offer curb-side pickup or some equally convenient way to get your tree to them. You really can’t get much easier than hauling your tree to the curb when you are taking out the mountain of packaging and other garbage that Christmas creates.

A man dragging a Christmas tree through the snow.

Leave It Outside
– If you live where you can pull it off, just leave your tree in your yard or nearby fields or woods. Natural Christmas trees are 100% biodegradable, and the soil will appreciate the donation of organic matter. Shelter can be hard to come by in winter, so all types of animals and will appreciate the added protection the tree offers. Additionally, both insects and animals will feed on the tree. You should only dispose of a tree this way if it is chemical-free and everything artificial has been removed, down to the last bit of tinsel. If you are leaving it anywhere but your own property, be sure there are no regulations prohibiting it and that you are not trespassing on someone else’s property. 

Four young people gathered around an outdoor fire pit.
Add It To A Firepit – Some people may argue that this is not the best choice since burning them adds CO2  to their air. However, if you have regular fires at this time of year, one single tree will not increase your emissions in any significant manner. Never burn a tree in an indoor fireplace; they are an extreme fire hazard in many ways (more details here).

Chickens in the snow looking at a pine tree.
Give It To Your Chickens – Giving your Christmas tree to your chickens offers multiple benefits to them. Not only do they like the taste of pine, but it is a nutrient-rich snack. Additionally, having the tree in their run will provide hours of stimulation as they root around in it, which will also spread the refreshing smell of pine around. Goats also love pine, and it’s been shown to reduce intestinal worms and support overall digestive health for them (more here). So, when you go out to feed your animals,
drag your tree out with you. 

- A Little Work Is Needed –

Brown pine trees on a sand dune in the Outer Banks, North Carolina.
Use It’s Ashes - Wood ash is nutrient-rich, so after your tree is burned you can dig it out of the firepit and add its ashes to your garden. They can also be composted. 

Find A Place That Wants It – There are municipalities that use donated trees for projects like landscaping and erosion control. For instance, many seaside communities are using them to strengthen their sand dunes. There are also some zoos that take trees to give to their animals to eat or play with (see lions living it up with their trees, here) Do a little research to find what’s around you and who might want your tree.

A fark-haired woman wearing a Santa suit underwater decorating a Christmas tree.

Sink It In A Lake – Just as land animals would appreciate the shelter of the tree, overwintering fish will also. While this is as simple as tossing the tree in water, unless you have a pond on your land you will need to find a location that will allow this, and you will need to transport the tree to that site. As mentioned before, your tree will need to be chemical-free and completely bare before you dispose of it in water. 

Pine boughs in a wooden raised bed planter.
Put It On Your Beds – Break off some boughs and lay them over your  perennial beds. This will provide some insulation as well as a barrier protection from snow. It will also help reduce frost heaving. You don’t have to limit yourself to bedding areas, put them anywhere you feel could benefit from that extra layer.

Use It As Plant Stakes – Break off small branches, strip the bark and use them to support your plants. Since this is a super-adaptable process, this will work for everything from bushy small indoor plants to leggy seedlings. Look around and you may find another way that this break-and-support thing would work for you. 

           - You’ll Need Tools For These-

Several shiny ornaments with some pine branches on wood chips.
Chip It Up – Rent or borrow a woodchipper and feed your tree to it. You can use the resultant chips as mulch right away or save them until spring. Pine mulch will suppress weeds and add nutrients to the soil as it decomposes. The acidic nature of pine mulch makes it an excellent additive for acid-loving plants like blueberries, hydrangeas and potatoes.

Gnomes with white beards and red hats painted on sticks.
Make It Into Twig Gnomes – This is an exceptional tree disposal solution if you have small children. You’ll probably not be able to get rid of a whole tree by making twig gnomes, but you’ll have plenty to play with. And they couldn’t be easier to make : Cut off some branches, sand them down a little and add hats, beards and faces. The hats can be painted on or made with felt, fabric and cotton balls. Here’s how one lady makes them . 

Edge Things With It – If you strip off the branches and cut the trunk into disks (2” is a good size), you can set them in the soil as a border. This would be especially effective along flower beds, walkways and driveways.

Make It Feet – In much the same way as you’d make the edging, you can make pot feet for your outdoor container plants. Lifting outdoor plants off the ground helps reduce insect problems, improves drainage and air circulation around the pot and lessens the chance of staining your wood or concrete surfaces. Make them any size you want and make extra to hold onto and use when the originals deteriorate.

- Master Level Crafts –

A modern woodern clock.
There are innumerable ways you can use your tree in crafts. At the end of the day, Christmas trees are wood, and one can make nearly anything from wood. These types of crafts can be pretty easy, like the ones I’ve talked about, but others require more tools, time and finesse than most of us have (i.e., clocks, musical instruments). This article has a lot of ideas and even gives instructions on how to prepare a tree to reuse.

No matter how you recycle your tree, remember to first enjoy it thoroughly in all its sparkly, shiny decorated beauty. Christmas with loved ones around the tree can be magical, and we all need a little magic in our lives.

A lion rolling around with a Christmas tree with snowlfake ornaments.

Happy Holidays!

Submitted by Pam

Friday, December 2, 2022

The Wonderful World of Wreaths

12 different wreath designs.

Wreaths are arguably the most ubiquitous of all Christmas decorations. They are also the most versatile and are more than just Christmas décor – they can be enjoyed in a seemingly endless number of ways all year long. 

An image from an original Roman mosaic. It shows a person wearing a leaf crown.
Roman mosaic
People have made wreaths a part of their lives for thousands of years. While it is impossible to know who the first person to create a wreath was, they were widely in use in ancient Greece and Rome. They were hung on doors to celebrate a military victory and worn on the head to denote status and occupation. Early Christians appropriated the wreath as a symbol of Christ; the circular shape illustrates the immortality that their religion promises. From this, the Christmas wreath evolved. If you want to know more, here’s a nice little article that tells the history of wreaths.

A tradtitional Christmas with evergreens, pinecones, holly, bells & ribbon.     Traditional Christmas

Small wreath that contains only ribbon, an evergreen sprig and 2 bellsPhoto by Vladimir Vinogradov on Unsplash.

Regardless of their origin, wreaths are now a set symbol for the Christmas holiday. The season would just not be the same without them. Traditional Christmas wreaths are a delight, but so are the many variations of wreaths that the ever-creative human brain can muster. They can be made of virtually any material and can send a specific message or no message at all. 

A yello wreath on a navy blue door in a grey building. There are yellow and navy blue pots around the door and a yellow doormat.A black wreath with an orange ribbon. It's hanging on an orange door in a grey building in Knoxville, TN.Photo by Nathan Anderson on Unsplash.       Permanent Décor

These two examples show how wreaths can become a focal point for the curb appeal of a home. These types of wreaths transcend any holiday and carry no particularly deep symbolism. Instead, they are a carefully considered addition to a home’s design. And they really work.

An Easter egg and bunny wreath. Photo by Roger Bradhsaw on Unsplash.
A wreath made from red, white and blue flowers with white stars attached top left.    Year-Round Holidays

Wreaths are a thing for any holiday. Easter calls for eggs, of course, and the flowers of spring and summer are perfect for displaying in any design. But, why not a red, white and blue wreath for the 4th of July? And there are so many fun ways to do a Halloween wreath or Autumn-themed wreath.    

An evergreen wreath in the shape of the Star of David. It has small fairy lights in it and a blue & white bow.
   HanukkahA Hannukahevergreen wreath. It's decorated with Star of David ornaments, a blue and silver bow, silver pinecones and blue sparkly ornament.

Christmas does not hold a monopoly on religious wreaths. There are also beautiful wreaths to adorn the homes of those who celebrate Hanukkah at this time of year. Like Christmas wraths, these designs are generally driven by traditional colors, religious symbols and personal aesthetics.

A wreath made of magnolia leaves at the Old City Cemetery in Lynchburg, VA.  Old City Cemetery, Lynchburg, VA - Photo by LuAnn Hunt on Unsplash.
Prickly pear cactus pad wreath. It is decorated with pinecones, silver ornaments and a bow.

Some wreaths send a quiet message that celebrates where they are hung. This beautiful example on the right is made with magnolia leaves and can be found in the Old City Cemetery in Lynchburg, VA. You can’t get much more old-school Southern than magnolias and Virginia. And nothing says “Southwest” more than a prickly pear cactus wreath.


A wreath made of a variety of squash.
A wreath made of garden tools. It has the word grow at the top.As a gardener, you could use a wreath as a way to display what you’ve grown (flowers, fruit or vegetables). Or you could make a fun wreath full of the tools of the trade. Either would look super-cute on a garden gate or shed door. If you have another hobby, this would work as well. Perhaps a golf ball wreath?

                           Arts & Crafts

An ice wreath with cranberries frozen in it. It is suspended with a red ribbon.
Creating wreaths as a group activity is popular with many people this time of year. Whether that means you and the kids or an adult gathering, it’s fun either way. Just grab some basic elements and gather the group (holiday cocktails recommended for adults). I have recently become intrigued with ice wreaths. They would make an ideal crafting project for children. It would keep them busy and out of the way for a while, although the water part might need supervision. I wish that we had colder weather here in Southern Arizona so that I could create some of these that would last. Here’s how to make them. 

A wreath made from computer parts, It has a red & green plaid ribbon at the top. Photo by Mick Haupt on Unsplash.
            Unique Elements

It's clear that one can make a wreath from anything. But some people look way out of the box for their source material.  Whether building a wreath from computer components, or antlers, these creators have given us wreaths that are unique and visually alluring. 
A wreath made with deer antlers.

A gif with flashing Christmas lights featuring a cartoon deet inside an ornament wreath. The deer is sucking on a candy cane.If you want to see more wreath designs (some of which are quite unique), Etsy has pages and pages of them, starting here. If you are more interested in creating an unusual wreath yourself, here’s a link to 65 DIY wreath ideas that should fit that bill. If you want to make a wreath but don't want to figure it all out yourself, here’s a link to a company that sells wreath kits. 

Have yourself a wonderful holiday season!

Submitted by Pam

Friday, November 18, 2022

It's Time To Winterize Your Plants

Close-up of a frost bubble on a plant stem.
At this time of year the weather in North America is wildly variable. As I write this, there are parts that are getting blasted by a winter storm and where I sit in Southern Arizona the weather is sunny and in the 70s. Not matter where you are sitting, it is time to get your plants winterized so they have the best chance to make it through to spring. Some of the following pointers may not pertain to your locale but others will, so take a moment to double-check your preparations.


A rake laid down on a pile of leaves.
After a busy growing season, you will need to tidy things up in the fall. Now is the time to pull weeds, remove annuals and trim down perennials. Be sure to avoid cross-contamination and carefully dispose of any cuttings that may be harboring insects or diseases. Having said that, if your cuttings are clean it is best to leave some where they lie. A carpet of plant material offers insulation to plant and tree roots, provides shelter for bees and other desirable insects, and is the basis for rich soil in the spring.

A brown, black and white cat snuggled in a nest of fallen leaves. Photo by Milica Spasojevic on Unsplash.

A word about leaves:

Leaves will provide all of the above advantages and should not be removed completely. Just be sure to keep them away from the house. Undesirable insects can hide in leaf litter and migrate into the comfy warmth of your home once they get cold, but most can’t travel very far. Also, when considering your leaves please remember that they are 100% biodegradable and naturally a part of the season-change process, and that plastic is killing our planet. Please consider this thoroughly before raking up leaves and putting them in plastic bags to send to the dump.


A woman in a coat and hat pushing a wheelbarrow full of yard debris toward a garden bed.
Mulch, whether commercially produced or made with your leaf litter and other materials, is an essential step in getting your plants through winter. It should be placed around plants, trees and shrubs. Be generous with it – you’ll want at least a 3-5 inch layer; and more if you live in cold country. Adding leaves, hay, straw, cornstalks and other no-compacting materials will create a more robust mulch. Save some mulch to add to your hibernating flower beds and gardens; extra organic matter in them now will pay off later.


Plastic bottles with their bottoms cut off used as cloches in a garden.
If you are worried about a sudden frost and/or have smallish plants in the ground to protect, consider the simple cloche. A cloche is a usually bell-shaped cover made of glass or plastic that you can plop over your plant. Cover the plant before nightfall and remove the cloche the next day so they utilize the sun. You can purchase cloches, but there are any number of items around your house that can be repurposed. Cloches are not a solution in super-cold regimes with hard frosts.
A view up the trunk to its canopy. It is wrapped a multi-colored knitted scarf-type thing.

Trees take the first step in getting ready for winter by dropping their leaves. But we humans can take
further steps to help them get to spring. At this point in the season, a good tree wrap or frost protection bag can do a great deal to help a tree – they can temper the harsh environmental factors of winter, discourage nibbling mammals, and are an excellent barrier insect control (here are some wraps that ARBICO offers). Sunscald (caused by warm daytime temperatures that drop way down after dark), winter burn (caused by water loss through foliage) and damage caused by snow, ice and animals are all serious threats to tree health. This article gives some succinct and helpful steps to take to reduce the risk from these factors. For more on how winter affects tree, here is my blog on just that from December 2020. 


Three terracotta planters full of snow with green stems poking through the snow.
Because the sides of a pot are exposed to the elements, container plants are very vulnerable and often not able to survive the winter. If possible, bring them inside to an area that gets sufficient sunlight. Before you bring in any plant from the outside, be certain it is insect-free so that you are not introducing problem into your home. If you have large containers that cannot be moved, your best bet is to bundle them up by wrapping layers around them. This could be anything from burlap to fabric to even bubble wrap (the air in the bubbles makes a surprisingly good insulator). Another option is to remove the plant and either replant it inside or put it in a spacious container where the soil around it can act as an insulant. You may want to hedge your bets and still wrap this larger container. 


A frosty view from outside a greenhouse looking in. You can see the tropical plants inside.
Many of the houseplants that people love are native to tropical environments. This is also true of many of the popular plants and grasses used in landscaping and patio décor. All of which means that they will not survive outside in the cold. When used in outdoor settings, these types of plants should be considered as annuals. If you are not okay with having them die or having to replace them, it is probably best to not use them in the first place. Re-locating them inside may work in some instances, but you will need to provide a place that gets lots of sunlight all year round and has a stable temperature. This can be problematic since the level of sunlight goes down in the winter and the temperature inside a winter home can be all over the place. These caveats for tropical plant care extend to houseplants, as most of them are tropical as well. To further understand the particular winter needs of plants inside homes in the winter, please refer to my blog on the subject here

A purple tube blowing a bubble that quickly turns to frost.
You should keep watering your plants as usual right up until you get a hard frost. The same can be said for most garden chores. And when you get your first snow, your well-tended garden will have a strong chance of coasting through it all (read more here).

Take Care

Submitted by Pam


Friday, November 4, 2022

What’s Eating My Sweaters?

A woman's hands can be seen on the right as she inspects a pile of netral-colored sweaters.
At this time of year, people are digging into their storage areas looking for warm clothing and blankets. Unfortunately, some of these people will find that their belongings have been an insect’s meal - they’ve unwittingly welcomed clothes moths into their homes. Like people, not all moths are bad. But there are two species that can be extremely damaging to fabrics – the casemaking clothes moth (Tinea pellionella) and the webbing clothes moth (Tineola bisselliella). Of the two, the webbing clothes moth is by far the most common, so I’ll focus on them in this blog.

Closeup of an adult Tineola bisselliella - a clothes moth.
Tineola bisselliella
Clothes moths feed on natural fabrics like wool, silk, fur and leather. This extends to upholstered furniture, rugs, animal bristles in hairbrushes, and items as obscure as the wool felt pads inside pianos. Synthetics blended with natural fibers can also fall victim to the appetite of these moths. 

It is unlikely you will see the adult clothes moths because they avoid bright wide-open spaces. But, if you see a small (about ½”) moth with a fringe of golden hairs along their wings and on top of their heads, that’s an adult clothes moth. Another identifier is that they are poor flyers and basically flutter around ineffectually, as opposed to the purposeful, direct flying of other moth species.

Life cycle showing (clock-wise from top) adults, eggs, larva and cocoon
It’s important to understand that killing any adult moths you may see will not fix your problem, as it is their larval stage that does the damage. Females lay between 40 and 50 eggs during their life span. Once a female has eggs, she secretes an adhesive substance that she uses to attach her eggs to fabrics. In warm weather, these eggs can hatch in 4-10 days and in the warm interior of homes this process can go on year-round. Once the eggs hatch, they dig into the fabrics they were placed on and use them for food and shelter. 

Close-up of an adult clothes moth with larvae on a white garment.
Moths with larvae
The locations that female clothes moths prefer are dark, warm, humid, and out of sight. Closets and storage areas perfectly fit these preferences, as do seams in clothing, crevices in furniture and under collars. The hidden nature of these larval homes can make it challenging to discover and control. Some indicators that you are dealing with a clothes moth infestation are silky little tunnels, furrows, or tubes on clothing, furs that shed excessively, crusty deposits that resemble mucus, webby bits, and irregular holes in fabrics. As with many other types of insect control, preventative steps are often the best first steps. Here are some recommendations:

Clothes hanging in a closet . It may seem indelicate to say, but good housekeeping and only storing clean garments helps immensely. Clothes moths are drawn to materials that are holding body oils and food residue. They will also find areas in the home that don’t often get deep-cleaned, like under furniture.

Three photos illustrating how a vacuum-compression bag works.

Store items in a sealed storage bin, vacuum-compression bag, or any other tightly-sealed storage situation. 

Whenever possible, store clothing by hanging it instead of folding it. The larvae are drawn to folds they can hide in. If you store items in a hanging garment bag, be sure to thoroughly tape up the zipper and closure area.

Rotate items in a closet regularly so that nothing stays hidden in the dark too long. 

A cedar chest full of heirlooms.
Periodically air out and allow light into your closet or storage area – clothes moths will abandon an area if they cannot find a spot safe from bright light.

A few words about cedar: For hundreds of years people stored their garments in cedar chests and cedar-lined closets in the belief that cedar keeps the moths away. We now know that the efficacy of cedar as a deterrent/repellent wans as soon as the oils dry. However, if you use a cedar chest and it closes tightly it will act as a barrier control long after the oils are gone.

Mothballs falling out of a jar onto a burlap surface.
Mothballs are another traditional method of control that is still recommended with some caveats. These aromatic spheres are strong pesticides that work best in ample numbers in closed environments, which means that the fumes can build up and make you sick. Additionally, the chemicals in moth balls can soften plastic, which may allow moths to enter.

Men dressed as moths reacting to and dancing around a light.
Cleaning up an infestation includes many of the steps delineated above, with a few additional deep-cleaning steps and pesticidal options. Adding sticky traps to the area when possible is also effective, as are pheromone lures/traps. These types of traps eliminate the love-hungry males and cut down on future generations. Here are some additional guidelines from the famous home guru, Bob Vila. Although labor-intensive, prevention and elimination of clothes moths is possible.

Take Care

Submitted by Pam  

Wednesday, October 19, 2022

5 Ghostly Plants

Since plants are corporeal beings, there is nothing inherently ghostly about them in reality. These plants gain the ghostly title by virtue of their spectral foliage and/or reclusive growing habits.

- Ghost Orchid-

On the left, a Ghost Orchid in its habitat and on the right is a close-up of the same flower. Photos by John Hermans.

(Didymoplexis stella-silva)  

In 2021, scientists named 205 new plant and fungal species around the world. Correct scientific naming is essential to protecting environments and endangered species. Providing a name begins the process of research, extinction risk assessment, and protections. In Madagascar, scientists from the Kew Madagascar Conservation Center named 16 species of orchids, including the Ghost Orchid (Didymoplexis stella-silva). Its name means “star of the forest” as this little flower grows in the near-complete darkness of the jungle floor and has star-like flowers. The fact that they even found this orchid is amazing. It is just a small flower and stem. It is leafless (so it has no chlorophyll for photosynthesis) and lives entirely via a symbiotic relationship with underground fungi. The flower only shows it itself for a brief 24 hours after a rain during which it is believed the orchid is pollinated by ants. In order for us to have this knowledge, those dedicated scientists from Kews would have had to put many, many hours in patient observation in that inhospitable jungle. Kudos to them.

- Philodendron Florida Ghost –

(Philodendron pedatum cv ‘Florida Ghost’) aka White Ghost 

A Florida Ghost showing the different colors its leaves can be.
Philodendrons have long been a favorite for houseplants as they are relatively vigorous growers and are easy to care for. This gorgeous plant is a philodendron hybrid created by combining Philodendron pedatum with Philodendron squamiferum. There are naturally many similarities between the parent plants and the Florida Ghost, but there are also some desirous differences. For instance, the Florida Ghost is more compact with tight leaf clusters and will grow well vertically on a supporting structure just until it reaches about eight feet (this article contains more comparisons). The Florida Ghost requires ample sun to retain the white hue to its leaves; without sufficient light the leaves will be a normal green. If you aren't sure if you have ample light, the same effect can be achieved with a grow light. If you have four-legged pets this might not be the one for you as it is toxic to cats and dogs. 

- Ghost Plant (succulent version) -

A Ghost Plant succulent growing amongst masonry and cascading down from it.
(Graptopetalum paraguayense) aka Mother of Pearl

This cold-hardy succulent makes an eye-catching addition to any home or landscape. It grows up to 1 foot tall and about 2-3 feet wide. In full sun the foliage turns a pinkish-yellow, but in partial shade it will acquire the blue-grey hue that gives it its name. In time, the stems will begin to cascade or spread along the ground and it will display little star-shaped yellow flowers. This succulent was first introduced to the U.S. in 1904 and at that time it was thought that it came from Paraguay in South America (this is how the paraguayense became part of its name). Over time, scientists have grown to understand that it is most likely from a place 5,000 miles away from Paraguay - Chihuahua, Mexico. I state that it is “most likely” from Mexico because there is still a surprising lack of clarity as to its origins and what is known has been extrapolated from what is known of the plant itself. This article has more on this interesting botanical mystery. 

- Ghostly Manzanita -

A bee on the white flowers of the Ghostly Manzanita.
(Arctostaphylos silvicola ) aka Bonny Doon Manzanita, Santa Cruz Manzanita, Silverleaf Manzanita

This rare shrub is a native of California, where it lives in ancient sand dunes in the Santa Cruz mountains. This plant is quite beautiful with its silver-grey leaves, deep red bark and bell-shaped flowers that look like the Lily of the Valley. These sweet flowers can bloom in both winter and spring and are beloved by pollinators. In the right circumstances, the Ghostly Manzanita can grow up to 8-20 feet tall and spread out just as wide,  but it is struggling in its native environment. Due to the very limited geographic locations where it grows, and threats from sand mining, this Californian treasure is considered threatened and/or endangered. Any loss of naturally-growing plant life is tragic, but this plant should survive in the long-run as it has become a popular landscape choice.

- Ghost Plant (perennial version) –

Ghosts plants rising from a verdant forest floor nest to a moss-covered log.

(Monotropa uniflora) aka Indian Pipe, Corpse Plant, Death Flower, Ghost Flower

This is arguably the best-known of the five plants on this list. It is similar to the Ghost Orchid in that it lives deep in dark forests, has no chlorophyll and survives off the mycorrhizal fungi in the soil. However, it differs from the wisp that is the orchid by its much-longer and more complex life cycle (learn more on that here). Although this smallish plant (4-10 inches) is found in most of its native North America, it is largely unseen due to reclusive growing practices. But if you look down in a dark forest by an old log, you may stumble across one. Beginning in early summer and until early autumn, it produces hanging ghostly white, translucent blooms, each on a single stem. As it matures the white will fade into a non-descript brown, but it will retain its upright posture. There is something about this plant that has lent itself to folklore and artistic contemplation. Native Americans used it medicinally and the famous American poet Emily Dickinson (1830-1886) wrote lovingly about it. 

A gif of the four original Ghostbusters.
Plants are spectacular in general, but I love a plant that is unique. If it has a bit of mystery, even better. These five provide some of all that.

Happy Halloween, everyone!

Submitted by Pam 

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