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"Christmas Decorations from the Garden"

It's that time of year again to dress up the home with holiday decorations. The garden is a great source of natural materials that can be used in all sorts of decorations this time of year. Wreaths, centerpieces, roping, swags, kissing balls, boxwood trees, mantlepiece decorations, and windowbox and outdoor planter decorations are just some of the holiday decorations that can be made from materials gathered from the garden. Evergreen boughs, colorful berries, colorful branches, seed heads, dried flower heads, cones, and nuts can all be gathered from the garden and used in a variety of festive seasonal decorations.

The base of just about all wintertime decorations is composed of evergreens. Both needled and broad-leaved evergreens can be used as the base of a variety of decorations. I like to use a combination of different evergreens so there is a pleasing contrast of textures. I think it's more visually interesting.

White pine is one of my favorite needled evergreens to use as a background material. The stems are slender and tend to bend gracefully when used in windowboxes and other planters. The needles are soft and long. Spruce and fir have shorter, more rigid needles on stiff stems. Blue spruce has attractive blue-green needles that provide a colorful contrast to the other evergreens.

Rhododendron and mountain laurel are two top choices for broad-leaved evergreens. Rhododendron has glossy, deep-green leaves. Both catawba rhododendron and "P.J.M." rhododendron can be used in seasonal decorations. Catawba rhododendron has large leaves up to six inches long. "P.J.M." rhododendron has smaller leaves, only three inches long or so. Mountain laurel has light green, long leaves. Other broad-leaved evergreen shrubs I like to use in holiday decorations are Japanese holly and boxwood. Both have small, rounded, dark green leaves. Boxwood is the perfect base for a boxwood tree.

My favorite way to add color to evergreen boughs is to insert stems of winterberry and holly. Winterberry is a deciduous type of holly. When its leaves drop in autumn, bare branches lined with bright-red berries are revealed. The berries are long lasting when cut. I use stems of winterberry in my windowboxes to add color. Holly is a familiar broad-leaved evergreen shrub with dark-green, prickly leaves and bright-red berries. Other berried plants that can be used when decorating during winter include blue-berried juniper and bayberry.

Colorful and interesting branches add another dimension to seasonal decorations. The most colorful branches to use are redtwig and yellow twig dogwood. Redtwig dogwood has bright-red, slender stems. Yellow twig dogwood has golden-yellow stems. Both provide bright color. For interesting form, I like to use stems of Harry Lauder's walking stick. The twisted and contorted stems seem to twist every which way and provide a whimsical element to seasonal decorations. They are good to use in centerpieces and small arrangements where their interesting shape can be appreciated.

The garden is a great source of seed heads and dried flowers this time of year. To make sure I have a good supply of seed heads and dried flowers this time of year, I wait to cut down any dead plants until after I've finished with my seasonal decorations. Take a walk around the garden toward the end of the season and look at plants with decorating in mind. What at first appears to be a dead plant may actually turn out to be an interesting accent in a holiday decoration. Some of my favorite seed heads and dried flowers include astilbe, ornamental grasses, clematis, hydrangea, and chives. Siberian iris seed heads turn deep brown and make nice accents. They can also be spray painted gold for a gilded effect.

Cones and nuts are popular accents in wintertime decorations. Various types of evergreens provide cones including hemlock, spruce, and white pine. Hemlock cones are the smallest cones, usually under an inch wide. White pine cones are long, slender cones. Because of their varying sizes and shapes, an assortment of cones can be used in all sorts of decorations. Acorns are abundant this time of year. They can be used in their natural state or they can be spray painted gold or silver.

Pernell Gerver's Gardening Q & Aby Pernell Gerver

"Remove Leaves from Lawn this Fall to Prevent Damage"

Q. My wife and I have just completed our yearly job of raking up all the fallen maple leaves on our lawn. Our neighbors are all at the same stage of the same fall ritual. While in the midst of this task the thought suddenly occurred to me, "What if we just don't bother with the leaves? Would it destroy our lawn?" Do you have an answer to this? Any thoughts you might have on this would be appreciated.

A. I know how you feel and I wish I could say you could just leave the leaves on the lawn, but they would end up severely damaging the lawn if not removed. What happens is leaves left on the lawn during winter can cause harm by smothering the grass. Wet leaves become matted down. Removing the leaves from the lawn now prevents this from happening over winter. Although it's late in the season and the lawn has slowed in its rate of growth, it is not yet dormant and still needs sunlight. Leaves not removed from the lawn now act as a barrier. Sunlight cannot reach the grass through a layer of leaves. The lawn will begin to yellow beneath the leaves and could be smothered out, leaving dead patches that would have to be repaired next spring.

Rather than setting all those leaves out to be picked up as yard waste, put them in the compost pile. Use Compost BioActivator to help them break down quickly so the compost will be ready to use in the garden next spring.

Click here to read more about Compost BioActivator and order it from Pernell Gerver's Online Store.

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