December 2011
How's Your Garden?

How's Your Garden?

Keep Living Christmas Trees Alive

"Live Christmas trees," as they are called in garden centers, are evergreen trees that may be planted outdoors after the holidays to become a permanent landscape feature. Common trees used in this way include arborvitae, junipers, Arizona cypress, Canadian hemlock and red cedar. Because these trees are dormant, they cannot be left indoors for more than two or three days, or they will begin to think it is spring. When the trees are moved outside, freezing weather will injure or kill them.

If you want a live tree so you can get double duty as a landscape plant later, hold it outdoors until the last possible moment. Let the tree rest in a cool shady place. Be sure the tree is well watered the day before bringing it inside. Avoid last minute watering of a rootball wrapped in burlap. It can become softened by watering and may crack and easily break apart when moved. Place the tree away from heating vents and fireplaces — the cooler the better. Use cool lights. Warm ones may fool the tree into thinking it’s spring. After two or three days, move the tree to an unheated garage or outbuilding for three or four days to allow it to acclimate to the outside temperatures again before planting.


Don’t let your garden sit like this to provide cover for garden pests all winter.

Another alternative is to use your living tree as an outdoor decoration for a deck or porch. Simply place it in a large pot or container two to three-inches wider and deeper than the rootball and fill in around the roots with bark. Provided you water regularly, the tree will stay happy in the pot for several weeks.

Garden Clean-Up Pays Off

 Clean up the vegetable garden to make things easier later. Old plants from last season’s vegetable garden that sit around through winter provide a good place for insects and some diseases to overwinter. Dig them all up to toss into a compost pile or, if you had a lot of disease, put the plants into the trash. Also rake up the old mulch and treat it the same way. Some insects hide under old boards and other shelter, so remove garden items shielding them from the weather. Do your best to keep the garden weed-free through winter so starting new plantings in spring will be easier.

Sprigs of rosemary make fragrant addition to Christmas flower arrangements.


Jerusalem Artichokes Are
Easy and Long Lived

This is the time of year to dig up Jerusalem artichokes from the garden of a friend to transplant to your garden. Give them their own place in the garden where they will stay for years. Jerusalem artichokes are grown for their crispy tubers. This is a "love ‘em or hate ‘em" crop you can eat raw in salads, sandwiches or with dip; cook in soups and casseroles; or roast with herbs and flavored oils. The time to dig them is after the tops are killed by frost; tubers are always sweeter in cold weather. In spring, the old tubers get pithy. Be careful about how big you let the patch become because the spreading perennial can become a weed. The artichokes, also called sun chokes, are native and believed to have been included in the American Indian diet.

Cut Rosemary

Clip stems of rosemary to use for holiday decorations and same-day gifts. You can cut rosemary to provide fragrance in tabletop arrangements, as a sprig tucked on a table napkin or even bundled on a gift instead of a bow on last minute gifts where the sprigs will be fresh. They can be kept out of water for a day or so before starting to dry or shed.


These red stems of Coral Bark Japanese maple are coated with ice from a winter storm.

Red Stem Japanese Maple

Japanese maples are beautiful plants for Alabama. There is one in particular that stands out at this time of year, Coral Bark, which has beautiful red bark. When leafless, this tree is a red sculpture in your garden. Originally introduced by Monrovia Nursery, Coral Bark is thriving as well as other Japanese maples in our area. It will get 15 to 20-feet tall and has nice golden fall color in the leaves. Although more expensive than some of the more common varieties, you might find this one worth the extra time as a specimen in your landscape. Find it a spot where the red stems have a good backdrop. The red color is brightest in full sun, but the plants will also grow in light shade. Once established, the trees are fairly drought-tolerant, but you need to keep them watered the first few years until they grow a good root system. Winter is a good time to plant.

Lois Trigg Chaplin is author of The Southern Garderner's Book of Lists and former Garden Editor of Southern Living Magazine.