"At Christmas I no more desire a rose

Than wish a snow in May’s newfangled mirth,

But like of each thing that in season grows."

— William Shakespeare

Christmas trees

The key to long-lasting live cut Christmas trees is moisture. These conifers lose a lot of moisture because they are cut many weeks before they show up for sale locally and dry out from wind during transport.

Conditioning a Christmas tree is similar to conditioning cut flowers for long vase life. When you purchase a tree, check that it is not already too dried out. Needles should be a rich green color. They should not drop off when you thump the tree trunk on the ground. Stems and twigs should bend rather than snap off. If the bottom of the trunk is sticky with resin where it was originally cut, that is a good sign.

As soon as you get the tree home, cut a slice off the bottom of its trunk and immediately immerse it in a big pail of water. Keep it outdoors on a porch or other area sheltered from the wind and harsh sun, and keep the pail full of water at all times. Bring it indoors a day or two before decorating time and leave it in a cool part of the house so it can make the transition from the cold to the hot, dry house. Use a tree stand that has a good capacity for water, and keep it filled during the time the tree is on display.

Gifts for Yardeners

Here are some gift ideas for yardener friends or family (or yourself):

1. Gift cards: for admission to Longwood Gardens or to a local arboretum; for a purchase at a favorite nursery.

2. Tools: quality pruners or loppers, sturdy trowel.

3. Decorative yard ornament: birdbath, bird feeder, plant container, trellis.

4. Small equipment: binoculars, electronic indoor/outdoor thermometer, rain gauge, decorative firewood holder, houseplant water meter, decorative plant labels.

5. Safety equipment: safety glasses, ear protectors,

6. Clothing: waterproof shoes or boots, wide brimmed hat, quality gloves.

Bee killer

We have suspected it for years, and now we have scientific evidence. Glyphosate, the formal name of the herbicide active ingredient in the well-known weed killer RoundUp and others and the most widely sprayed herbicide in the world, also kills bees.

Assurances over the years that it is safe for wildlife overlooked the possibility that, because glyphosate is actually an antibiotic, it could harm certain bacteria in insects as well as in plants.

According to a report co-authored by Nancy Moran, a biologist at the University of Texas, most bee species have bacteria in their intestines that use an enzyme that is vulnerable to glyphosate. Repeated exposure to it upsets the balance of good bacteria in bees that assure immunity and digestion. Over time, they become vulnerable to pathogens and premature death.

Poison plants

While winter weather prevails outdoors, families are indoors, and so are some plants. We have pots of various favorite plants to provide holiday decorations, seasonable colorful blooms or foliage. They also improve indoor air quality and, in the case of some herbs, flavor to our food.

However, many plants can present a danger to kids and pets. For instance, mistletoe, holly berries, leaves and twigs of boxwood and all parts of yews are considered hazardous and even toxic in some cases. While poinsettias are not poisonous as reputed to be, some traditional houseplant standbys are.

Make it a point to learn whether any of your indoor plants are toxic and keep them away from pets and kids. Teach kids never to put leaves, stems, bark, seeds, berries or flowers of any plant in their mouths.

For more than 20 years, local garden writer and lecturer Liz Ball has offered helpful information and advice to homeowners on enjoying and caring for their yards and the plants that grow there in her Yardening column. Direct your Yardening questions to her at lizball@aol.com.

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