Posts tagged holiday

Mistletoe mythology

The following is from Linn County Master Gardener, Claire Smith:

 

I’m sitting here gazing out the window again.  It’s cold.  It’s dreary.  The big round hay bales are adorned in caps of frozen snow.  The cardinal in my Lilac Bush must have flown the coop for better living conditions. Now and then an occasional squirrel scurries across the yard searching for buried treasures.  Flocks of wild turkeys dotted the hillside along East Post Road and Hwy 100 yesterday.  We followed three young deer trotting down the middle of our road acting as if the right of way was theirs.  I suppose it was easier than struggling in the deep snow.  They stopped in a neighbor’s drive and glared as if we were imposing on their life style.  We wondered how many critters are wintering in homes along our road abandoned due to the flood.

            Relatives from Texas are in Iowa for the Holidays. We’ll enjoy a dinner with them and the weather will undoubtedly be a topic of conversation. My brother stopped yesterday with holiday cheer.  We travel to rural Bertram for another meal with fine food, fun gifts, and mega-jocularity.  97 year old Great Grandma will join us for a brunch.  Grandson Charlie got a reply, postmarked from the North Pole (!) from his letter to Santa.  Granddaughter Catie is convinced she has been a model child all year, but is waffling a bit on the Santa Claus thing.

 ‘Tis the Holiday Season. Hopefully everyone can find something, albeit small, to be thankful for.

 Many of us continue to be abundantly blessed.  Others are not so lucky. My Holiday wish to you is that you enjoy this Season for whatever reason you choose, but please, please make a note to yourself, that like wildlife that strives to survive this frigid weather, many many friends, acquaintances and folks you’ve never met will need your help going forward as they struggle to regain a balance in their lives.  Remember them as we embark on another New Year.

            On a lighter note:  any idea why we call Nature “Mother” and Winter “Old Man”?  Did you know Mistletoe isn’t all it’s cracked up to be?  Its berries are poisonous; it has no roots so leaches from the tree to which it’s attached and in mythology was said to be a sign of submission when sighted during times of war!

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Attracting birds and other wintertime tips

The following Q&A is from Iowa State University Extension’s garden experts:

I recently purchased a Norfolk Island pine.  How do I care for it? 

 

The Norfolk Island pine is a popular houseplant. During the holiday season, many individuals turn their plants into living Christmas trees by decorating them with miniature lights, ribbons and ornaments. The Norfolk Island pine thrives indoors when given good, consistent care. Place the Norfolk Island pine in a brightly lit location near an east, west or south window. Rotate the plant weekly to prevent the plant from growing toward the light and becoming lopsided. 

 

Thoroughly water the Norfolk Island pine when the soil surface becomes dry to the touch. Discard the excess water, which drains out the bottom of the pot. From spring to early fall, fertilize the plant with a dilute fertilizer solution every 2 to 4 weeks. A temperature of 55 to 70  degrees F is suitable for the Norfolk Island pine. Winter is often a difficult time because of low relative humidity levels in most homes. Raise the humidity level around the Norfolk Island pine with a humidifier or place the plant on a pebble tray. Low relative humidity levels, insufficient light, or infrequent watering may induce browning of branch tips and lead to the loss of the lower branches. 

 

Which trees and shrubs provide food for birds during the winter months? 

 

When attempting to attract birds to the landscape, trees and shrubs that provide food during the winter months are extremely important as natural foods are most limited at this time of year. Trees that provide food for birds in winter include hackberry (Celtis occidentalis), hawthorn (Crataegus species), eastern red cedar (Juniperus virginiana) and crabapple (Malus species). Shrubs that provide food for birds include red chokeberry (Aronia arbutifolia), northern bayberry (Myrica pensylvanica), sumac (Rhus species), roses (native species and Rosa rugosa), snowberry (Symphoricarpos species), nannyberry (Viburnum lentago) and American cranberrybush viburnum (Viburnum trilobum). 

 

Can I dispose of my wood ashes in the garden? 

 

Wood ashes contain small amounts of several plant nutrients. The nutrient content of wood ashes depends on the type of wood burned, the thoroughness of its burning, and other factors.  Generally, wood ashes contain 5 to 7 percent potash, 1 percent phosphate, and small amounts of other elements. However, the largest component of wood ashes is calcium carbonate. Calcium carbonate is a liming material. Liming materials raise the soil pH. 

 

The soil pH is important because it affects the availability of essential nutrients. The pH scale runs from 0 to 14. Any pH below 7.0 is acidic and any pH above 7.0 is alkaline. A pH of 7.0 is neutral. Most vegetables and perennials grow best in slightly acidic soils with a pH between 6.0 and 7.0. Plants may not perform as well in soils with a pH above 7.0 because of the reduced availability of some essential nutrients. 

 

Avoid applying wood ashes to garden areas with a pH above 7.0. Applying wood ashes to alkaline soils may raise the soil pH and reduce the availability of some plant nutrients. An application of 10 to 20 pounds of wood ashes per 1,000 square feet should be safe if the soil pH is below 7.0. If the soil pH in your garden is unknown, conduct a soil test to determine the pH of your soil before applying wood ashes to flower or vegetable gardens. 

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Eco-debate: real vs. fake

  Throw another log in the annual debate about which is better for the environment: an artificial tree or a real Christmas tree. Living Christmas trees are also an option in Iowa.

   Linn County Master Gardener Gene Frye has some experience in that arena. Frye’s wife was given a potted 2-foot-tall white spruce one year that they used for their Christmas tree.

   After the season, Frye kept the potted tree in his basement, keeping it semi-watered. Once the weather warms, the trees can be kept outdoors in their pots. More watering is necessary when they are outdoors.

   Frye said the tree was used for Christmas for a couple years until he planted it outside. Now the spruce is about 30 feet tall.

   If you want to keep the tree in its pot from year to year, Frye suggested bringing it indoors for the winter. Because conifers don’t go completely dormant, they could dehydrate if left outdoors in a small pot with frozen soil.

   Frye advocated finding a large spot to plant the tree when you are ready to transplant it. Early spring is the best time to transplant conifers in Iowa. For fall planting, late August through September is the best time to transplant conifers.

 

   Find more on the real vs. fake Christmas tree debate, as well as eco-friendly holiday tips in the Sunday, Dec. 14 issue of The Gazette.

 

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