Don’t let cold weather stop you from enjoying season’s greenery

Cold weather makes it safe to harvest holiday greens

Baby, it is cold outside. I hope your chestnuts are roasting by an open fire!

Ah, but this frigid weather is good for something: Your plants are now totally dormant, which means that you can prune them for holiday greens without any fear of inducing new growth and causing winter damage.

I like to remove entire limbs of evergreens that are getting in the way and then prune the greenery off them. (You can also use the lower branches of your Christmas tree for this; I generally buy a tree that’s too tall so I can harvest the bottom.)

Then, I’ll selectively prune my blue holly for shape, again removing entire branches, and then cutting them down into usable sections.

Lay a couple of the evergreen boughs down on a table, place some holly branches over top, tie it all together with thin wire, and then cover the wire with a nice ribbon. Maybe add a single Christmas tree ball or a bell.

Boom — you’ve got perfect homegrown decor to adorn your front door!

Keep your poinsettia warm

Brrrr! It’s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas — in Minnie-snow-ta!

These severely low temperatures make transportation of tropical plants such as poinsettia and Norfolk pine pretty tricky — especially very frost-tender poinsettia.

  • Make sure any poinsettia you buy are well-wrapped.
  • Don’t take them outside naked! (You or the plant.)
  • Don’t leave them in a cold car while you run errands.
  • Unwrap them as soon as you get home.
  • Carefully remove the decorative soil.
  • Sit the pot in a few inches of water for an hour.
  • Let it drain.
  • Then, replace the foil and place the plant in a cool room — not anywhere near a wood stove, radiator or hot air vent. Although they must be protected from the frigid outdoors, they will last the longest and look their best at cool room temperature indoors.

‘She’s a lumberjack and that’s OK …’

WTOP’s wonderful Sae Robinson begs to differ with my report that all Christmas tree farms cut the tree for you. She writes: “Every year, we visit one of the ‘cut your own’ tree farms along I-70 in Maryland, like Greenway Farms in Woodbine, Gaver’s in Mount Airy, Pine Valley in Sykesville …”

“We always kneel down in the snow (and sometimes mud) to saw down our tree and then drag it out by ourselves. Good, old-fashioned ‘cut your own’ style!”

When I replied that, surely, there must be people there who would cut the tree for you if you asked, Sae admitted that she had seen it happen but that she likes getting down and dirty, adding, “And don’t call me surely.”

I’m here all week, folks. Remember to tip your tree cutter — and, don’t try the eggnog.

A gift of the greatest show on earth!

Struggling to come up with a unique gift for the gardener in your life? How about taking them to the oldest and largest indoor floral show in the world: the fabulous Philadelphia Flower Show!

Running from March 2-10 at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in downtown Philly, the 2019 show theme is “Flower Power” — a topic that ranges from a celebration of the 50th anniversary of Woodstock to the healing power of plants. And, buying tickets in advance not only makes a great stocking stuffer, but can save you dough and/or get you lots of extras.

For instance, an $80 “duo pack” includes two adult tickets to the show and membership in the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, which means you’ll have free access to a “members only” lounge during the show (you will welcome the chance to sit down and have complimentary coffee or tea) and discounts in the show’s marketplace area. And two adult tickets at the door would set you back $42 apiece — that’s a lot of extras and four more bucks in your pocket!

There’s also a “Family Fun Pass” (two adults plus two kids under 16) for $95 — it would be $110 at the door. Lots of other options abound. Just visit for all the details.

(P.S. If you don’t celebrate Christmas, flower show tickets are also a great Valentine’s Day gift.)

(P.P.S. I’ll be giving my annual lecture on the flower show floor at 4 p.m. on the Wednesday of the show. Free with flower show admission.)

Quick tips on holiday plants

  • Prevent dried-out needle drop by pre-hydrating your cut Christmas tree! Cut an extra inch off the bottom and place the cut portion in lukewarm water for several hours before you attach the stand — and keep that stand filled with water!
  • Keep poinsettia and Norfolk pines warm on the way home and then display them in the coolest room of your house.
  • Keep blooming amaryllis in the coolest part of your house.
  • Take advantage of our cold weather by pruning evergreens and hollies to make your own homegrown swags and wreaths.
  • Rosemary Christmas trees are beautiful and fragrant, but also root-bound. Repot them into larger containers immediately and keep them well-watered. (But, don’t let them sit in water. Make sure the protective saucer underneath the pot is bone dry.)

Mike McGrath was editor-in-chief of ORGANIC GARDENING magazine from 1990 through 1997. He has been the host of the nationally syndicated public radio show “You Bet Your Garden” since 1998 and WTOP Garden Editor since 1999. Send him your garden or pest control questions at

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