FEATURED QUOTE :
"Never worry about the size of your Christmas tree. In the eyes of children, they are all 30 feet tall."
~Larry Wilde, The Merry Book of Christmas
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This wonderful holiday custom began
during the Greek festival of Saturnalia and was also part of
primitive marriage rites of the time. It was believed that it had
the power to bestow fertility on the newlyweds. In the Scandinavian
countries, the plant mistletoe was considered a plant of peace under
which enemies could declare a truce--on the domestic side, it was a
sign for spouses to kiss and make up.
During the eighteenth century, the
British people would form a ball of mistletoe because of the magical
powers it was thought to contain and called it the "Kissing
Ball." At Christmas, bright evergreen branches of holly, ivy,
and pine were added to the mistletoe ball with colorful ribbons,
along with holiday decorations to help make the holiday more festive.
Young ladies standing under the mistletoe ball that was hung in the
arch of doors could not refuse to be kissed. Such a kiss could mean
deep romance or lasting friendship and good will. If the girl
remained un-kissed, she could not expect to marry during the coming
In parts of England, the Christmas
mistletoe is burned on the twelfth night, lest all the boys and girls
who have kissed under it never marry. In Canada and some European countries
a kiss under the Mistletoe exchanged by a couple in love is interpreted as a
promise to marry as well as a prediction of happiness and long life.
In France the custom of mistletoe in the
home was reserved for the New Year: "Au gui l'an neuf"
(Mistletoe of the new year).
Today, kisses under the mistletoe
can be exchanged at any time during the holiday season. Mistletoe is still hung up in the home under a doorway for young men
to have the privilege of kissing the girls under it. With each kiss,
a white berry must be plucked from the plant and when the berries are
all removed the kissing privilege is over for the holiday. Most of
us have conveniently forgotten the part of picking off the berries
after the kiss, so the fun continues through the holiday season.
Mistletoe is a very interesting
plant, because it is a partial parasite and lives off the plant that
it grows on. It favors the southern oaks and oak varieties from
around the world. The plant grows on the branches of the tree and
also the trunk of the tree, but is usually found on the top of the
tree. The mistletoe plant will actually send out roots that will
penetrate into the tree and take up the nutrition it needs to grow
and thrive. Mistletoe is also capable of making its own food like
other plants by photosynthesis but most commonly found plants are
Mistletoe plants can be found
growing from southern New Jersey to Florida and west to California.
The plant is evergreen, with small one-inch oval leaves that are lime
green. The plant is very noticeable in the trees during the fall and
winter, when the trees have lost their foliage for the season.
Mistletoe will stunt the growth of a tree--or even kill it in time.
The only way to stop the plant is to remove the entire branch it is
growing on, as the roots the mistletoe makes in the tree branches can
grow 3 feet or more inside that branch. If you just remove
the plant, it will redevelop the following spring from the roots in
the tree branches and grow even stronger and faster.
In the late
spring, the plant will make small yellow flowers in clusters, and
small white sticky berries are produced on the plant during the
summer months. The berries are POISONOUS, so if you're
decorating your home with fresh berry branches for the holidays and
you have animals or small children, you could have a problem. Use
the treated foliage with plastic berries attached to them to prevent
problems, as some of the berries may fall off the plant onto the
floor and will be eaten buy pets and toddlers. This is a fun plant
for the holidays, so enjoy all the kissing under the mistletoe this
holiday season but get started now while the supply is still
available at your local nursery or garden center.
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When I was younger, and it came time to select the perfect Christmas tree, we had one choice--the Balsam fir.
Although this is still the number one tree sold in New England, today the selection is very different and our choices more numerous.
Let me tell you about these trees and then you can select wisely.
The Balsam Fir
Needles lie flat on each side of the branch and the branch is thickly covered with needles.
The needle is dark green on top and pale green on the bottom.
Needles are an inch long and, when crushed, are VERY fragrant.
Your entire home will smell like the great outdoors.
Branches are stiff but will bend with the weight of lights and ornaments.
Ornaments are easily displayed, as the branches spread out and open up the tree to show inside to the trunk.
Balsam fir has long lasting color, fragrance and freshness.
A new hybrid of the Balsam fir.
Needles are flat and surround the branch, not just on the sides.
The top of the needles is very dark green, while the underside is silver.
Needles are an inch long and have some fragrance to them.
The tree is much fuller than the traditional Balsam fir.
The branches are stiff but will bend some with the weight of the lights and ornaments.
When it is heavily sheared, ornaments lie on the side of the branches as the tree does not open up as much.
Fraser fir has the best color of all trees with the dark green top and silver underside.
Fragrance good in the room it's in.
Flat needles on each side of the branch like the Balsam but longer--1.5 to 2 inches long.
The branches are thick with needles; they are dark green on top and silver green on the underside.
There is a little bit of fragrance but not like the Balsam fir.
Branches are very flexible and decorate easily but heavy ornaments pull down branches easily.
Tree has a weeping appearance, unusual and beautiful.
Like all fir trees, it's long lasting, has good color and is fresh looking.
Look for tags on the branches to see where it was grown.
If grown on the West coast and you had temperatures 20 degrees or colder, do not buy it.
West coast grown trees will shed needles when they hit the heat in your home.
Once very popular in the Midwest but due to insect problems and disease there are fewer and fewer trees grown each year.
It grows very upright and the branches are stiff.
Lights and ornaments lie on the side of the tree as branches bend very little.
Needles are 2 inches long and blue green, with a silver underside.
Not much of a fragrance but will last in the house longer than most trees.
Very soft looking with pale green needles 3 to 4 inches long.
Trees are sheared heavily and I think it is difficult to decorate, as branches are soft and ornaments fall off easily.
Dries up faster than the fir family, as needles are thin and soft.
It's beautiful to look at, but the tree will not last long in a warm room.
From the West Coast, this is a tree that we should all try at one time.
Stems are filled with one inch long needles that are rounded on the tip.
Several layers of silver green needles on the branches, and they are just beautiful.
Branches spaced about 6 inches apart, almost like layers on the tree, so ornaments can dangle on branches and display beautifully.
No real fragrance but this tree will not shed needles--yes, it will not shed! When dry, it maintains its color.
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Nothing is more beautiful in the garden than a large display of cyclamen. They are among the best fall- and winter-blooming plants. You can use them in pots on tables, by the front door, or planted in a nice shady spot outdoors before the frost arrives. They are great for atriums.
The flowers resemble a butterfly fluttering above the plant. The foliage, in the shape of a heart, grows in a mound over the pot. There are miniature varieties for small spots and the common larger plants for the table or garden. The foliage color can be green to silver and every combination in-between.
The flower color ranges from white to pink, red, lavender and some multi-colored. Some varieties can also have frilly flowers or smooth edges. Hint: they make a great gift plant for someone with a cool home during the winter.
A few notes on growing cyclamen:
• Try to keep water away from the crown area (they can get crown rot).
• Do not bury them too deep; keep the top of the tuber just slightly above the soil line.
• Keep your plants well fed; feed every couple of weeks while they are in full leaf.
• Pull out the stems that have gone by. Hint! Bend the stem down towards the foliage and quickly pull the stem out. It will snap free from the plant. Never leave old flower stems on the plant as they will rot and kill some of the leaves next to them.
• Pick a few flowers to go into a bud vase. They are lovely and last quite well.
• As the flowers begin to fade, gradually allow the plant to dry out for 2-3 months; do not feed during this time.
• Resume feeding when new growth appears. Repot at this time in a container 2 inches larger.
• Cyclamen like cool weather (that's why they make great winter-bloomers). That means outdoors in a shady to semi-shady spot during summer. If you have a spot that is full shade in summer and gets more light in cooler weather, that is ideal.
• Make sure they are planted in a well-draining area.
• They like cool weather--but not severe cold. Some are hardier than others are, but all need some protection against cold. These plants are bulb-like and will not survive outdoors during the winter. They must be brought indoors for the winter and they will bloom most of the winter for you. Great in mixed containers for the front step also. Try planting with flowering kale and cabbage.
• Pick a cool spot. Make sure they have good air circulation, but keep out of cold drafts. Also keep away from heating vents where hot and dry air can dry plants quickly. Hot forced air will force the plant to send all flower buds into bloom all at once. Cool temperatures spread out the flowering time over many week indoors.
• High humidity, especially during winter, is very important. Try putting the cyclamen on a tray of water with a layer of pebbles to form a shelf for pot to sit on. Don't put the cyclamen itself in the water. You want humidity around the plant, not soggy soil.
• Let the cyclamen have plenty of light in winter; sunburn is rarely a problem. In summer keep it in indirect light.
• Repot when the tuber fills the existing pot; it's best to repot it while it's dormant. Use a pot just a little larger than the old pot.
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One of the most exciting parts of the holiday season is selecting the family Christmas tree. This year for a change, how about a selecting a Christmas tree that you can plant in your yard after the holidays? You can decorate it inside this year and outside in the yard next year.
Today a good cut tree will cost you $30 to $75 dollars--and when the holiday
is over, you have nothing left for your investment. You can purchase a living
tree with a root ball for $50 and up.
If the north wind is a problem, now is the time to start planting the first
of that hedgerow of evergreens to break the wind. This is the fun way to get
the job done. Each tree will have its own special memories of past holidays while
performing an energy-saving task.
The proper care of a living tree is as follows:
- Choose a tree that you can handle, since the dirt ball or pot will be heavy.
- Pick out the tree while the weather is good and the moving is easy.
- Your living tree can only stay in the house for 7 to 10 days. So, plan for the time that the tree will be in the house and out.
- Living trees must be kept away from fireplaces, wood stoves and heating ducts. The tree is now dormant and if you wake it up it will start to grow in the house. Then, once you take it back out, the cold weather could hurt the new bud.
- Keep the room cool and the root ball wet so the plant does not dry up.
- To prevent damage to floor or carpet, place the root ball in a tub. A child's
flying saucer sled will work great.
- Try to bring the tree inside when the outside temperature is no colder
than 25 degrees from the inside temperature.
- If you have a garage or barn, keep the tree there until you are ready to
bring it indoors. If not, keep it as close as possible to the door for easy access
during periods of heavy snow.
- When you are ready to bring the tree indoors, place a scatter rug by the door and the container on it. The scatter rug will allow you to slide the tree along the floor without damage to the floor and it will save you extra lifting.
- Do not fill the container with water--a quart at a time will do. To help keep the tree dormant, spray the foliage with Wilt-Pruf or Wilt Stop. This will keep the moisture in the tree.
- Use the new LED lights on the tree, as they produce little to no heat and that helps keep the tree dormant.
- Mist the tree daily with water.
After the holidays, if the weather is stormy or very cold, place the tree
in the garage or barn. If that is not possible, put it up against the house or
fence to keep it out of direct sun and the wind. Cover the root ball with bark
mulch, straw or soil until spring.
You can plant the tree in the yard if the weather is good, but you will have
to dig the hole before the ground freezes and bring the soil into the garage
so it does not freeze. You must also fill the hole with leaves in a trash bag
just in case it snows or you will never find it (or worse, find it by falling
in it). I wait until spring...it's easier!
The living tree is more work than the traditional cut tree but you will not be sorry when you see the results.
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Paul Parent will be hosting a tour that includes:
- Vancouver, BC
- Butchart Gardens--55 acres of floral display!
- Cruising the Inside Passage:
- Icy Strait Point
- Hubbard Glacier Cruising
- Scenic Drive to Anchorage
- Denali National Park
- Fairbanks City Tour, a tour of the Gold Dredge # 8 and a cruise down the Chena river on the Riverboat Discovery Sternwheeler.
Click here for more information.
This Week's Question
A plant that is a biennial...
- blooms every other year.
- blooms its second year, then dies.
- blooms twice a year.
- cycles between a year of growth and a year of dormancy.
- is at least 200 years old.
This Week's Prize:
Wilt-Pruf®...The Safe Way To Reduce Moisture Loss When Plants Are Under Water Stress due to:
- winter kill
- transplant shock
Click here for more information about Wilt-Pruf.
Last Week's Question:
Which of the following countries is the world's top producer of tomatoes?
Last Week's Winner:
Last Week's Answer:
Last Week's Prize:
One winner per question - we choose winners from the list of those who answer correctly. Winners must be newsletter subscribers. We'll ship you your prize, so be sure to put your address in the form in case you win!
Are you looking for a great gift for a gardener (or yourself)? This garden
journal helps make planning and organizing easy. This journal, autographed
personally by Paul,
makes a perfect gift for gardeners. The cover holds a 5x7 or 4x6 photo and a
heavy-duty D-ring binder.
- 8 tabbed sections
- 5 garden details sections with pockets for seeds, tags...
- Weather records page
- 6 three year journal pages
- Insect & diseases page - 3 project pages
- 3 annual checklist pages
- Plant wish list page
- 2 large pocket pages
- Sheet of garden labels
- 5 garden detail sheets
- 5 graph paper pages for layouts
- 5 photo pages, each holding four 4x6 photos in landscape or portrait format
Click here to order online.
What You'll Need:
- 8 ounces cream cheese, softened
- 1 cup canned pumpkin
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
- 8 ounces whipped topping
- 1 (9-inch size) graham cracker crust
Step by Step:
- Beat cream cheese, pumpkin, sugar and pie spice with mixer on medium speed until well blended.
- Gently stir in whipped topping.
- Spoon into crust. Chill 3 hours or overnight.
- Garnish as desired.