Category Archives: General


November is the time to put the yard to bed for a long winter’s nap and prepare for the holidays ahead. During the growing season, branches in our yards extend their leaves like hands to catch the light. Now that the work of the chloroplasts fed by sun, water, nutrients and carbon dioxide is done for a season, the spent leaves carpet the earth’s floor. Their work done, their season in the sun gives way to the dead of winter and branching hope for renewal in a next generation of leaves the following spring season. Having moved amassed sugars and carbohydrates from their manufacturing “plant” to the roots for storage, a healthy plant, in essence, saves for a rainy day. Technically if allowed to do so, the spent leaf does find a second calling as a beneficial compostable soil amendment when worked into the soil or compost pile. It is the circle of life or circle of “leaf” and natural renewal. Why not use the leaves for some composting benefit as a reward because like Neil Sedaka used to sing, “raking” up is hard to do (or something like that). The process of going into dormancy as we head into November is inevitable and non-reversible. Fall then winter is going to happen. Fortunately once dormant, dormancy is a reversible stage but we’ll “leaf” that thought and process for another article closer to spring.

Fraser Fir growing on Christmas tree hill

Fraser Fir growing on Christmas tree hill

It is the process of the growing season ending and inevitable dormancy that I believe make the aroma, the feel, the sight of evergreen branches such a welcome addition to our homes during the Christmas season. The sweet smell of Douglas Fir, the prickly personality of Spruce, the distinctive aroma of Fraser Fir or the comfortable presence of Pine makes you feel at home. You may want to keep some potting soil thawed out to use in porch or front step containers when evergreen boughs are available. One of my favorite November activities is to prune materials from the landscape and add them to evergreen boughs for a welcome arrangement at your front door.

"Spruce up" by pruning boughs from evergreens to make porch pots

“Spruce up” by pruning boughs from evergreens to make porch pots

Use the thawed soil in your containers when you’ve collected your harvest and combine with evergreen branches pressed into the soil. The moisture in the soil will soon freeze holding the arrangement in place for the holiday season. Landscape plants like red and gold twigged Dogwood or Ninebark provide wonderful colorful branches for your arrangement. Foliage and blooms from spent perennials like Ornamental Grasses, Sedum and Agastache or spent flowers of Hydrangea provide dried plumage and flowers for your arrangement. Berries from Holly, Viburnum or Rose Hips provide the color to play against the evergreen backdrop. Look around and be creative, you’ll be surprised how much there is to choose from. Just make sure to check with your neighbors and get their permission before snipping to keep everyone’s spirits bright.
Evergreens are not always ever green. You may notice a large amount of yellow needles during November at the base of your White Pine for example. An evergreen tree will carry a few years worth of needles but shed the third year’s needles as an example. These are the needles you find at the base of the tree and make a great collectible mulch to use at the base of your Rhododendrons, Hollies and Azaleas. Pine mulch is much more popular in certain parts of the country than it is in West Michigan but aside from aesthetics has a functional purpose. Broadleaf evergreens like Rhododendrons can also lose their green color in winter due to another reason….desiccation. November is the time to act by spraying desirable broadleaf evergreens like Rhododendrons, Boxwood, Azaleas or Hollies with anti-transpirant spray derived from the resin of Pine trees. Products like Wilt-Stop form a soft, clear, flexible film on treated plants, protecting them from moisture loss. Because evergreens retain their foliage in winter, they continue to transpire moisture loss. If the ground is frozen and the plant does not have ability to draw water from the roots, a plant can desiccate and die from exposure to wind and winter sun. You can also use a product like Wilt Stop on your Christmas greens. I have used it for years on my evergreen roping with great results. Boughs, wreaths, Christmas greenery and even your Christmas tree can have extended life from the use of an anti-tranpirant. This allows you to put up greens in November on a reasonable weather day with confidence they’ll last until Christmas. I like to joke that I’ve even used the pine resin in my hair for long lasting hold on a windy November day. Don’t do as I do because it is not recommended on the label and it makes your hair stiff as a board even though it is a natural non-toxic product.
Speaking of green, the last mowing of the lawn usually takes place in November too. During the growing season I recommend raising the deck on the lawn mower for a naturally healthy and weed resistant lawn. With the arrival of November we lower the deck and cut the grass shorter than we do during the summer months. This is done for a couple of reasons. First we want to avoid vole damage to our lawns by eliminating hiding areas and long grass. Voles are “mouse-like” creatures that can do a number on our turf, operating under the cover of snow hidden from natural predators. In addition longer grass blades will lay flat under the cover of snow matting the turf and increasing the probability of snow mold issues come spring.
You can usually find some deals on spring flowering bulbs like Tulips or Daffodils in November. You can successfully plant them in November for spring color. I’ve been known to plant them in December picking through frost crusted soil to do so with success. Maybe it’s the Dutch in my blood but I highly

Force bulbs indoors

Force bulbs indoors

recommend it. Sure beats the alternative of shoveling snow. You can also take these bulbs and “force” them into bloom by potting them up and putting them into cold storage (40 to 45 degrees) for 12 to 16 weeks and treat yourself to some late winter and early spring color indoors.
No need to slow down enjoyment in your landscape in November. It’s “Hoe, Hoe, Hoe” the holidays are here!


Every day I drink a lot of tap water without giving it a thought. I wet my “plants” with water from the hose expecting it to be there so my hydrangeas don’t wilt. I’ve always lived close to Lake Michigan and the Great Lakes here in Michigan.

Running for fresh water with Team World Vision

Running for fresh water with Team World Vision

As a gardener and a runner, water is important to me, but I am so blessed with it I often take for granted the plentiful resource it is at my disposal. I was reading the other day that, of the world’s total water supply, over 96 percent is saline. And, of the total freshwater, over 68 percent is locked up in ice and glaciers with an other 30 percent of freshwater in the ground. Those are amazing statistics if what I read is true. Of course everyone would agree that every child deserves clean water. Yet I’ve come to learn that more than 1,000 children a day die from unsafe water… more than from AIDS and malaria combined.

Team World Vision!

Team World Vision!

Clean water, basic sanitation and hygiene can prevent disease and deaths of children in our world. World Vision is one of the largest providers of clean water in the developing world due to the support of World Vision donors all around the world. New or rehabilitated wells and water points as well as sanitation facilities help many children, families, get the sustained clean water they need to live… something many of us take for granted everyday.

This October I will be running for Team World Vision to help raise money for this important cause. Would you take a moment to look at my Team World Vision page and consider helping provide clean water to those in need? Here is the link and thank you very “mulch!”

Please support me here: Team World Vision: Rick Vuyst – Madison Square Church

Rick Vuyst

Soil is the Stomach of the Plant

I have grounded friends who give me well rooted advice. I had a friend of mine tell me it’s OK to have “dirty thoughts” at this time of year if you’re a gardener. This made me laugh because I love the smell of soil. Another friend suggested to me that soil is the stomach of a plant. Early in the year many of us resolve better eating habits. What about our plants? As we shovel snow in the frozen tundra our thoughts turn to the smell of good clean dirt. When we’ve been cooped up inside all winter in dry forced air and a confined space, we discover how much the rich healing texture and smell of soil and sunshine influences how we feel.

"Dirty" thoughts

“Dirty” thoughts

I’m convinced that soil, fresh air and foliage are significant contributors to how we feel and our overall health. Don’t take my word for it, I’m not a doctor, just an “entre-manure”. A bag of potting soil this time of year can have big remedial effects for the winter blues. Remember as we progress toward the spring season we do know that there is a direct correlation between the health of your soil and the healthy produce, flowers and herbs you are able to grow in your garden. Studies suggest that soil can be beneficial to our health. I saw a study recently that soil teeming with a wide variety of “life” is more likely to produce nutrient-dense food.

first soil tests as of 1162014 cropped“What we’re missing,” says my friend Justin Morgan of Dairy Doo, “is organic matter and carbon in our soils. We need a blend of carbon, minerals and biology.” Makes sense once you understand that it is the cooperation between organic matter and plants’ roots that is responsible for transferring carbon and nutrients from the soil to the plant and our dinner plates.

Stay grounded my friend

Stay grounded my friend

Your houseplants have had a long winter too. They have cabin fever, are tired of the dry air and whether in the office or the home have probably collected a little dust on their foliage. Lack of light is already a problem throughout winter so don’t compound the problem with dusty dirty foliage. Using some warm water and a pair of soft cotton gloves, dip your hands gloves and all in the warm water and gently using your fingers wipe (don’t pull or tug) the foliage. This is a quick gentle easy way to clean the foliage and improve photosynthesis.

Hurricane Sandy

2012 was quite a year for weather. One of the warmest years nationally on record. The winter that never was. An early unusual warm up in March followed by killing frosts in April. A hot and dry summer. Hurricane Sandy. Here is a picture my son Rick Jr. sent me. He is working on Long Island as part of the hurricane clean-up effort. He says this is typical of the home landscapes on Long Island with considerable tree damage and destruction.

Long Island damage

Happy Holly Daze

It’s time to deck the halls and yard in a festive flurry as we all test our holiday design skills squeezed into our already busy daily schedules….sounds like fun huh? I call it “Holly Daze” and you suddenly discover you’re in the thick of it when standing on an aluminum ladder in the dark holding a ball of lights and an extension cord.Auld Lang Pine You Auld Lang “Pine” for some help navigating the hap…happiest of holidays. Here are some “Holly Daze” pointers to help you through this “most wonderful time of the year.” Rick’s Six so to speak…….

1) Measure the area in your home where your tree will go before going to shop for your tree. Then take the tape measure along with you when going to get the tree. Make a fresh cut at the base of the tree and immediately plunge it into fresh water. Place a ping pong ball or fishing bobber in the bowl of the tree stand so you can see at a glance the water level. Maintain a sufficient water level in the tree stand at all times.stack of trees

2) In our area tying the tree to the top of the family sleigh is legal. You are however responsible to securely tie the tree. How many of us have cringed observing the vehicle on the expressway with a mattress tied to the top of the car? Place the tree with the trunk or butt or handle facing the front of the car, not the top facing the front. Think aerodynamics. It is your responsibility to prevent driving with a load that is “dropping, sifting, leaking, blowing off or shifting” for both your safety and the safety of others on the road.

3) If you light up the exterior of your home, it is generally considered neighborly practice to unplug the lights at night when you go to bed.Christmas lights This is particularly true if you have thousands of blinking lights and a 15 foot tall inflatable Santa in the front yard.

4) Christmas greens add fragrance, style and drama to your entry areas. Fresh green roping, wreaths and boughs are the perfect welcome to visitors arriving on your doorstep. Consider using an anti-dessicant spray like Wilt Stop to your greens to keep them fresh. A biodegradable pine resin spray can keep those greens looking fresh all the way to Valentine’s day if you choose to keep them up that porch pots With the popularity of container gardening, have some Porch Pots on the front steps to add to the holiday cheer. Some evergreen boughs, some clippings from the landscape and some ornamentation will make for a container of Christmas cheer.

5) Speaking of Christmas cheer, don’t drink and decorate. The Christmas spirits will cause you to think your presentation is beautiful but may be just the opposite to your audience…..those who drive by your house. glass of wineBesides it would be downright dangerous to drink and climb around on ladders with extension cords in your hands. Decorate like you drive…..and while you’re at it, wait with texting until the halls are decked.

6) Christmas is for kids but don’t use them for design or style advice. More can be tacky. Try repetition of a style or color. It ties the display together, gives it “reason” and is far more stylish than clutter.

It's it a day....sorry that it had to end this way

It’s over….call it a day….sorry that it had to end this way

Happy Holly Daze! Before you know it as Johnny Mathis would sing…’s over….call it a day….sorry that it had to end this way…..