Peas on Earth

“Peas” on Earth
I have a holiday and Christmas wish for Michigan this year. An El Nino’ winter because my opinion is we deserve it after the last two winters we’ve all endured. I remember past El Nino’ November months in West Michigan. Wearing short sleeve shirts as we put the garden to bed for winter and stringing lots of Christmas lights outdoors to celebrate the holidays ahead. We would unload Christmas trees, in by November standards, warm temperatures. These were the years that due to a lack of ice and snow people would be inclined to string a lot of Christmas lights on the home and in the landscape. The final leaves of fall are raked in November and tilled into the garden. Anticipation of the upcoming holidays builds as we begin to decorate indoors and out. I am not a meteorologist, but when scientists predict an El Nino’ winter due to warm Pacific Ocean water temperatures it gets my attention.

After two very cold winters could the winter of 2015/2016 be an El Nino winter in the Midwest?
After two very cold winters could the winter of 2015/2016 be an El Nino winter in the Midwest?

Warmer November temperatures allow us to “hoe hoe hoe” extending the gardening season in West Michigan and get the ladders and extension cords out to string some “electric ivy”. I call it “peas” on earth and good “till’ towards men and women to enjoy the great outdoors in November.
November is a great month to take cuttings from the natural landscape to add to fresh greens for Porch Pots. These entry door containers are an inviting welcome to holiday visitors. Pruned Rose Hips from the rose bushes, lengths of Russian Sage, Red Twig Dogwood branches or Birch Branches as examples are great compliments to fresh evergreen boughs in containers for entryways. Now that the flowers are frozen but the soil is still workable, arrange the branches in these containers and they will look great through the holidays into February.

Porch Pots provide a great natural welcome to guests arriving at your home
Porch Pots provide a great natural welcome to guests arriving at your home

Forcing bulbs for indoor color is another way to brighten the home. Paperwhite narcissus and Amaryllis are easy to grow bulbs to flower indoors otherwise known as “forcing”. You can also still purchase Tulips and Daffodils or Hyacinths to plant outdoors or “force” indoors into bloom.

Bulbs for forcing indoors are wonderful little orbs of potential
Bulbs for forcing indoors are wonderful little orbs of potential




Finally don’t forget that indoor foliage plants are our friends as we spend more time indoors in the winter months. They can improve indoor air quality and keep us connected to nature as the winter months arrive. Try to give your foliage plants a brightly lit window and rotate them from time to time. Remember not to kill them with kindness as the shorter days and less light of winter causes them to require far less water than the summer months.

Foliage plants like these Sanseveria (pictured) are a welcome and healthy addition to any home!
Foliage plants like these Sanseveria (pictured) are a welcome and healthy addition to any home!

Hoe Hoe Hoe

The landscape provides a bounty of holiday decorating opportunities with entry porch pots to welcome visitors to your home. Flowers now frozen in pots can be pulled and you can create warm welcoming containers in existing pots that I call “porch pots” for the holiday season. Hoe, Hoe, Hoe, let your landscape add to the festive look of the holidays.

Evergreen branches and decorations in a standard nursery pot with soil
Evergreen branches and decorations in a standard nursery pot with soil

Start with some containers for your deck or entry steps. I like to use ceramic pots that were used for flowering annuals during the growing season. In November before the soil freezes hard, branches cut at a 45 degree angle to create a point can be pushed into the soil to arrange your festive welcome. If you’re potting up some new containers make sure to have some bags of thawed potting soil stored for use for when you’re ready to arrange. After your arrangement is made and left outdoors the soil will freeze and hold the branches in place.
With a good pruning shears and a pleasant November day, a bountiful harvest can be had to add color to outdoor container arrangements and wreaths. The foundation of your arrangement will be evergreen boughs.

Evergreen branches
Evergreen branches

You can purchase evergreen boughs in bundles or prune your own. Here in Michigan Douglas Fir is a great choice because of their fragrance. Fraser Fir is easy to work with and provides beautiful evergreen color. Colorado Blue Spruce will add some color and interest, just make sure you’re wearing gloves when working with their prickly attitude. Scotch Pine and White Pine are also great choices. Oregon greens are available for purchase and evergreen boughs of Noble Fir and Incense Cedar as examples provide great interest.
Now that you’ve placed the foundation stems of evergreen boughs in the pot working from the center to the outside arching them over the side, the fun is just beginning.

Red Twig Dogwood adds lots of color!
Red Twig Dogwood adds lots of color!

Now we get creative with remnants of the landscape to add color and interest. My favorite cuttings or stems to work into my arrangements are:
• Red Twig Dogwood
• Curly Willow
• Gold Twig Dogwood
• Birch branches
• Upright Sedum
• Deciduous Holly Berry Branches
• Agastache
• Ninebark Branches
• Echinacea or Rudbeckia spent bloom seed heads
Use your creativity to find items in the landscape to offset the evergreen branches in both color and texture.

Gold twig Dogwood
Finally you can add some artificial elements to the arrangement. Solid color ball ornaments can be added, some are available on sticks to poke into the soil. Plastic colored ball ornaments may be a good choice if breakage is a concern. Artificial berry stems can be purchased to add bright colors. LED lights can be added for nighttime interest and color. If a plug is not handy or extension cords would be unsightly, LED lights use little power and are available in battery operated options also.
Hoe, Hoe, Hoe, your landscape is in the spirit of the season with festive gatherings in porch pots, and a little help from you.

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…..

Make your Christmas “Greens” come true!

When it comes to your Christmas tree it’s not much different than a tree in your landscape… needs “re-hydration” when nature calls so to speak. Foliage or in this case needles transpire like people perspire when things warm up. In the case of an evergreen they’ll transpire indoors when you turn up the heat.

Oh Christmas Tree!

Due to a decrease in hydrostatic water pressure in the needles as they transpire the tree “pulls” water upward through the xylem to re-hydrate the tree. The same applies to trees and plants in your landscape. The big difference of course is that the Christmas tree in your living room has no roots to reach out.

You have to reach out and provide the water to your tree so the “FMC” does not drop to unacceptable levels at which point “yule” have to reach for a vacuum cleaner. FMC is Foliage Moisture Content. Make a fresh cut on the bottom of Christmas tree and immediately place it in water. When you get a wound your body begins to clot and scab the wound naturally. The tree does the same with sap at the cut which in turn inhibits or cuts off moisture flow through the tree.

When the “FMC” drops below 25% needles will drop and the tree may no longer draw water even though it is sitting in water. The greater the water pickup results in higher foliage moisture content which also provides the best ignition resistance.

Go Green!

Trees with a high “FMC” tend to self-extinguish versus a dry tree with low “FMC” can go up like a torch if subjected to an ignition source. Light up your holidays the right way and get long lasting fragrance and beauty from your tree by making a fresh cut, put the tree immediately in water and keep the water bowl full until you remove the tree after the holidays. Placing a fishing bobber or ping pong ball in the water will help you see at a glance the water level in the bowl. Pay attention to your tree’s “FMC” and it will make all your Christmas “Greens” come true!