With the holidays upon us we get ready for the parties and celebrations of the season. Out come the time tested decorations from years past and in come the evergreens from our yards.
Hot chocolate fills our mugs (don’t forget the marshmallows) as we sort through and try to temper the traditional aspect with a new twist or two.
In this wonderful area of the world, November and December are still on the mild side…although you never know. A day of cleaning out the gardens and decorating can joyfully end on the dock with a cast or two for rockfish for dinner.
Pots from the summer are brought into the house for overwintering. Herbs are harvested for freezing and vinegars. Root crops are happily entrenched and can be harvested on a “needs” basis.
There is a sense of comfort in traditions and familiarity that comes with the holidays. There is also a sense of loss. Colorful light weight clothing gives way to heavy darker shades. Boots replace bare feet. The spontaneity of spring, summer and fall are replaced with the sameness that comes from years of memories.
So why not interject some fun and change in the season? Look at the possibility of bringing nature into your home.
The garden has been cleaned out; the compost pile is full of mulched leaves and plant material. The lawn has been aerated and fertilized, (fall being the best time for that) and the remaining ornamental pots full of perennials and annuals are sitting on your porch, patio or in your yard.
Cleaning Out and Bringing Pots and Plants Inside
Frost dates vary with locality, so become acquainted with your area’s dates. The Tidewater area on the frost map includes the waterside on the northern, southern and eastern tip of the Northern Neck and Middle peninsula. This area has a first frost date of November 8th –20th and a total number of frost free days of 230.
As the time of frost approaches, planted pots seem to thrive. Tropical hibiscus, the ones that have the shinny leaves, philodendron, Christmas cactus and some ferns need to come inside. Cool weather plants finally are free of the heat of the summer. Swiss chard, spinach, sage, basil and fall crops of kale supply you with endless sources of fresh-from-the-garden. Flowers struggling through the heat are full of blossom. Now is the time to make the difficult decisions as to what needs to be thrown out and what can come into the house.
In this area some annuals and tender perennials can be a surprise. Sometimes removed from a pot and tucked into a sheltered area of the garden and mulched well, they poke their heads up and shine the following year. I am selective when adding plants to my compost if it is thriving and may come back next spring.
For those plants that have clearly flopped and are in the “I am finished” mode, you want to remove them and add them to the compost pile. I save my potting soil to augment low spots in the garden, being careful to eliminate the drainage material used in the bottom of the pot (usually shredded foam or pebbles).
Any plant material that you desire to bring into the house should either be repotted in a clean container or, if the container is in good condition and the plant is not root bound, clean the outside of the pot well with soap and water. Then the plant can be sprayed with a mild insecticide or insecticidal soap, left outside to dry and moved into the house.
As in spring, the pots need to be transitioned by moving to a sheltered spot on a porch, garage or landing, and then brought into the house on a day when the conditions outside the house best match the inside climate.
All this is excellent advice, but tempered with real life, when returning from an evening party, you hear that there is a frost warning. So you dash outside in your PJs and cover your plants with a sheet or haul them to the porch, hoping for just one more warm day.
When you have completed the process and all of your plants have moved inside, the empty ornamental pots need to be thoroughly cleaned and put away for the winter. Wash the empty pots with soap and water, inside and out. Wipe with a one-to-ten solution of bleach to water and let dry.
Store the pots in an area free from dramatic temperature changes until the spring. This process is very important and greatly eases the getting ready for spring scurries.
Large plant material in pots brought into the house can be easily moved with the use of wheeled pot bases. Smaller containers should be placed on pot protectors or pads that are waterproof and protect the furniture upon which they are placed. Remember that all good intentions of not overwatering and spilling do not necessarily last until spring.
All plants brought into the house need some adjustment time. They should be placed away from direct drafts, hot or cold, and allowed to rest. Their need for water and fertilizer diminishes as they rest from their summer labors.
As the winter time progresses, they can be moved to more direct sun, as the individual plant requires.
Naturalizing Inside with Plant Material
The definition of naturalizing is: “to conform to nature or make nature like.” To establish an interior that reflects what we see out of our windows is a landscape design technique. So why not use that creatively when decorating for the holidays and wintertime.
Look at the native and ornamental grasses, goldenrod, dried seed heads and sticks in your yard and as you go about in this area. Soybeans have handsome seed stalks; sea oats, Joe Pye weed, and others grow profusely and in specific micro climates. Micro climates are areas that meet the needs of the individual plant. Joe Pye weed prefers wet areas while sea oats will tolerate well drained soil. Always ask permission when obtaining specimens for your own use from land that is not yours. Farmers are generally very generous. A handful of mature soybean stalks, wheat or barley make a wonderful addition to a Thanksgiving centerpiece.
Many grasses and plants are easily dried by hanging upside down in a warm, dark area (attic or tool shed). Experiment with drying different material. Get out that spray can and try multicoating using silver with gold highlights and mixing the colors to augment your décor.
Many florists and craft stores have exciting collections of dried and died grasses and seed pods of every imaginable shape. Think outside the box…of holiday and winter decorations. Sure those evergreens are wonderful with lots of red berries, but why not add seed pods sprayed the purple of your sofa…or whatever strikes your fancy. You will discover a new look and some hidden creativity that will help your house shine for this season.
With the wonderful views so many of us enjoy, we have windows that fill with sunshine. Windowsills are a perfect for a novel look. Get out that narrow decorative shallow dish in a pleasing color. Fill it with slightly moist potting soil. Mix annual rye or oat grass seed gently into the top of the soil. Cover with plastic wrap and set in the sun. Be careful to mist it if it becomes dry. In a very short time period, usually a week or so, up sprouts grass. The container can fill with lush vegetation in only a few weeks time. Add a red or gold bow around the container and voila!! A new look! Try it around plants in your other pots. Some of the grasses are a tasty addition to salads and even enjoyed by cats, (check for edibility of varieties). Grass seeds of every imaginable variety are available by the scoop at some local garden centers.
Do Not Forget Bulbs
Did you know that bulbs are best planted outside when the soil has cooled to about 50 degrees? Did you know that they have the most impact when planted in washes or loosely organized arrangements rather than rows or even spacing? Did you know that in this area bulbs can be planted outside anytime the soil is workable through December?
Did you know you can force some bulbs without a rest period? And remember daffodils, snow drops, hyacinth, crocus and tulips are all well known, but bulbs are not just for spring!! Explore those catalogs and on line, and try some bulbs for summer and fall.
Now get those creative thinking caps on and let it all hang out! Happy holidays and wintertime.