Recycle the Tree

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(Host) Commentator Henry Homeyer has a practical suggestion for recycling your Christmas tree.

(Homeyer) The holidays are over, and by now many of us are settling in to what that famous Christmas poem refers to as a “long winter’s nap.” But if you’re a gardener, you might think about one last chore.

Each year when it’s time to take down the tree, I grab my pruners and snip off the branches. This accomplishes two things: it makes removal of the tree easier, as the branches don’t bang into the doorways, shedding their needles everywhere. Secondly, it gives me some great material for protecting my tender plants. You know, the ones that would rather winter in Florida – or at least in Connecticut – than in my backyard.

I use branches from our Christmas tree to build a kind of clubhouse over delicate plants – my President Lincoln Tea Rose, for example. I build a shelter to break the cold winter winds, which also helps to keep it from drying out. It may keep the ground a few degrees warmer, too, in years of minimum snow.

So here’s what I do: If there are long branches on the rose, I’ll gently bend them down and towards the ground. Then I’ll put the evergreen boughs over the rose, placing the heavier ends of the branches on the ground, and their tips touching in a little pyramid. Lastly, I’ll use some hay or straw to cover the branches. I’ll fluff it up as I put it on. Later, after the first thaw, the straw will be heavy and wet, but the branches will keep it from suffocating my rose. If you don’t have evergreen branches to use, any brush will work just fine. Build something sturdy enough to cover with hay and you’ll be all set.

Mountain laurels and most rhododendrons keep their leaves all winter, too. On sunny days their dark glossy leaves absorb heat from the sun, and may open up their stomata, or pores, and give off moisture. Unfortunately, they can’t replace the moisture if their roots are frozen, so their leaves shrivel up. This isn’t fatal, but it does make some of us worry about our poor plants.

Many gardeners, myself included, lose a few plants most winters. It’s not always the cold that does them in, however. I believe that poor drainage is just as much a killer as cold. Some plants just don’t like to have wet feet.

I’ve never had much luck growing lavender, for example, partly because most parts of my property have a rich, moist soil. Lavender needs excellent drainage and lean, slightly alkaline soil. Despite having lost lavender, or having it just barely survive on several occasions, I planted another one last summer. I placed it on a sunny hillside, added limestone, and it seemed happy. I’ll give it a little protection with pine boughs and hay, and hope for the best. But if it doesn’t survive, I’ll know I gave it my best shot.

This is the gardening guy, Henry Homeyer, in Cornish Flat, New Hampshire.

Henry Homeyer is a gardening writer and columnist. He spoke from our studio in Norwich.

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