Last-minute gardener gifts, the power of water and the life of paperwhites

The window is now open for some holiday pruning

Well, it’s still not looking a lot like Christmas, but at least nighttime temperatures will drop below freezing this weekend, which is good news for holiday decoration procrastinators still looking to harvest some holly and evergreen branches from their landscape.

I called out the first “safe” time to perform this festive chore back on Nov. 21, when we had a short but perfect stretch of cold weather. But if you snoozed back then, you lost your chance because virtually every day since then has been much too warm to prune without the risk of stimulating new growth. Causing that new growth can severely injure plants at this time of year.

But Saturday looks perfect. It’s expected to be cold Friday night, and it will be cold again Saturday night. But don’t delay, because the weather is going to warm up again right after that.

Yes; it’s a tight window. But safe times to prune have been few and far between this season.

Take yacht club fire as a reminder about watering trees

The recent fire at the Annapolis Yacht Club hit me hard for two reasons:

1) I’ve had many memorable dinners there with dear friends who were members.

2) The fire has initially been blamed on a dried-out Christmas tree.

Well, if you listen to the radio on Saturdays, you know my drill for keeping a cut tree not only fire-safe, but also so supple you won‘t have a new carpet made of needles after the holidays: Cut an extra inch off the bottom of the trunk and let the freshly cut stump sit in a big container of water for 24 hours before you set it up.

And keep an eye on that container, because it will probably need to be refilled. You will be amazed at how many gallons even a fresh tree sucks up.

And then — and fire officials also stress this — never let the water reservoir in the tree stand dry out. If it does, the tree may lose its ability to take up new water.

Stunning stats on the safety of well-watered trees

In light of that fire, a lot of people are echoing the classic words of Lucy Van Pelt, who told Charlie Brown to “get a shiny aluminum Christmas tree.” (Which is terrible advice. Unless you also get the color wheel, and then it’s retro cool …)

But as I’ve been saying every holiday for the past 17 years, the only thing a real tree needs to be super-safe and supple is that constant supply of water. And experts not only agree, they supply stunning details.

In a story reported by WTOP’s own Jamie Forzato earlier this week, tests confirmed that cut trees watered every day retained a stunning 73 percent of their moisture after TWO MONTHS (!), and basically refused to burn. Trees that were water-neglected dropped to a tinderbox level of 17 percent and ignited in seconds.

So forget pennies, sugar and magic formulas: Just keep that reservoir in the tree stand filled with fresh clean water alladatime.

A tale of two Christmas blooming bulbs

Big bold amaryllis bulbs and pretty little paperwhites make great gifts to give or receive for the holidays. And while both are tropical bulbs, only one will reliably re-bloom and that’s the dramatic amaryllis.

Place newly potted amaryllis bulbs (or plants purchased already in flower) in a cool bright spot, water lightly and enjoy the big blooms. When the flowers fade, clip off the seed heads at the top of the stalk and give the plant’s green leaves as much light as possible. I’ll tell you what to do after that when the holidays are over.

But those heavily fragrant paperwhites are one-time wonders that are impossible even for experts to coax back into bloom. So enjoy the stinky show and then toss the spent bulbs afterward without guilt.

Last-minute gardener gifts

  • For many years I’ve been suggesting that if deer, geese, groundhogs, dogs, cats or people are a problem for the gardener on your list, you should get them a motion activated sprinkler such as The Scarecrow, which throws cold water at unwanted intruders. And I still feel that way. I’ve tested some of the other products that claim to do the same and none worked nearly as well. But boo hoo; I have just learned that the parent company, Contech, went bankrupt and the devices are no longer being made. You can still find some for sale at Amazon and similar online marketplaces, but there don’t seem to be many left at the original $60 or $70 price. So if you want one, act fast. They’ll be gone or cost $100 tomorrow! (More on this story as we approach spring.)
  • Maddening mosquitoes are going to be a bigger problem than usual following this warm winter, making a big shaker jug of BTI granules a great gift for the frequently bitten. The all-natural, nontoxic larvicide stops skeeters from breeding. And no breed, no bite! Even better, this product is widely available. You’ll probably find it on the shelf at better independent garden centers. The biggest brand name is Summit. Oh, and the granules also get rid of fungus gnats on houseplants.
  • If a lawn owner on your list wants to A) stop using toxic herbicides; B) wants to get ahead of the new laws that will soon restrict the use of toxic herbicides; or C) you want them to stop using toxic herbicides, give them the gift of iron! Specifically an iron-based weed killer such as Iron-X for nontoxic and highly effective control of broadleaf weeds.
  • And what gardener wouldn’t love to find a nice package of worm castings or bat guano under the tree? I know I would!

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