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Now For Something Completely Different… Poinsettias!

They have traditionally been the winter holiday’s most popular plant, the sure and steady standby, but have you seen poinsettias lately? These are not your mother’s poinsettias! Endless selections of bract colors and shapes combined with unique foliage offerings and a wide variety of forms and sizes make this year’s collection spectacular. Furthermore, to fit the most unusual of tastes, poinsettias may be painted just about any color to match your holiday decor and finished off with glitter to complete the festive look.

Poinsettias are now available in a tremendous range of colors, shapes and sizes, as illustrated by this table (any color may be found in any bract feature or plant form)…

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Cut Poinsettias

To use poinsettias as cut flowers, the stems must be treated right away. The milky sap must congeal inside the stems to prevent the plants from wilting. Immediately after cutting, dunk the cut ends of the stems into boiling water for about one minute and then immediately place them in cool water. Keep the flowers away from the steam to prevent them from being damaged. You may also singe the cut ends of the stems with a flame for a few seconds before placing them in cool water. Place vase of treated flowers in a cool place for at least 18-24 hours before they are used in arrangements.

 Poinsettia Fun Facts

Other than their use as stunning holiday decorations, how much do you really know about poinsettias?

  • Native to Mexico, the poinsettia was first introduced into the United States in 1825 by Joel Poinsett.
  • In its natural surroundings, the poinsettia is a perennial flowering shrub that grows up to 10 feet tall.
  • The showy part of the plant, the part that most of us call flowers, are actually colored bracts or modified leaves.
  • Poinsettias have been called ‘lobster flower’ or ‘flame leaf flower’ by many in the past.
  • Poinsettias are mildly poisonous. The milky sap can cause a skin irritation for some and an upset stomach if consumed in large quantities.
  • Poinsettias represent 85 percent of holiday season potted plant sales and are the best selling flowering potted plant in the U.S., even though most are sold in only a six week period before the holidays.
  • Dec 12th is National Poinsettia Day!

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Forcing Bulbs for the Holidays and Beyond

Blooming baskets and pots of brightly colored forced bulbs make a fabulous holiday or winter gift for others and ourselves. What better way to dress up the holiday home or cheer up a long, cold winter, reminding us of impending spring?

The forcing process should begin in September or early October if you want the bulbs to be blooming when given in late November or December. If you are starting late, no worries, just print these easy instructions to give with your potted bulbs and let the recipient do the rest.

Forcing Bulbs in 10 Easy Steps

  1. Count backwards from the desired bloom date the number of weeks required for bloom plus the number of weeks required for cooling. This is the planting date. To use your forced bulbs as a blooming Christmas gift, you will have to plant in September.
  2. Select a container that has drainage holes and is at least twice as tall as the unplanted bulb. There is an exception for paperwhites that you plan to grow in stone. These should be placed in a container without drainage holes.
  3. Mix a good bulb fertilizer into your potting soil according to directions on the package.
  4. Fill enough of your container with potting soil so that when the bulb is placed on top of the soil the tip of the bulb sits slightly above the lip.
  5. Place your bulbs on top of the soil. Keep them close without touching each other or the container.
  6. Continue to fill the area between the bulbs with soil. Fill until slightly below the lip.
  7. Water the soil gently, allowing excess to drain.
  8. Refrigerate potted bulbs for the appropriate amount of time. Check frequently and water as necessary to keep the soil moist.
  9. Gradually acclimate planted bulbs to a warm, bright location when their required cooling time has been completed. Move back out of direct sun and into a cooler location when the bulbs finally flower to prolong the blooms.
  10.  Rotate container frequently to produce straight stems.

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Post Bloom

After flowering, cut back flower stems and place your containers back in full sun. Continue to water until the foliage dies back naturally. When the foliage is completely spent, place containers in a cool, dry place until early next fall when the bulbs may be safely planted into the garden. Forced bulbs cannot be forced a second time. Paperwhites will never bloom again and should be discarded after forcing. Previously forced bulbs, after planting in the ground, may skip a year’s bloom but will eventually return to their former beauty and regular schedule.

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Holiday Light Safety

Holiday lights are, by far, the most popular holiday decoration, adding sparkle and elegance to the season. Whether you use classic strings of lights, themed light displays or elaborate light dances, follow these important precautions when illuminating your home this year, both indoors and out, then sit back and enjoy the beauty of the season.

  • Use only UL approved light strands, extension cords and replacement bulbs, and purchase them from reputable dealers and retailers.
  • Use lights only in the manufacturer specified environment: indoor lights inside the home and outdoor lights outside the home.
  • Examine previously used lights carefully. Repair or replace frayed wires and damaged sockets or discard worn lights and purchase new strands.
  • Identify and replace all burned out bulbs (note: 2 burned out bulbs can shorten the remaining life of a light set by 39 percent, four bulbs by 63 percent).
  • Use heavy-duty extension cords with no more than three strands of lights per cord.
  • Carefully place extension cords to avoid tripping. Running cords against a wall is preferred. Indoors, extension cords should never be run under rugs or caught directly under furniture legs.
  • Outdoor lights should be plugged into circuits protected by ground-fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs).
  • A warm plug or wire and fuses that repeatedly blow means the circuit may be overloaded. Reduce the number of light stands to the circuit.
  • Fasten strings of lights securely to tree trunks and branches, walls, posts, mailboxes and other structures. Outdoors, support and hang lights with plastic zip ties or insulated holders. Never use metal tacks, staples or nails. Do not string lights on metal structures or near standing water.
  • Do not use light strands in nurseries, children’s play rooms or children’s bedrooms.
  • Do not hang lights near main electrical and feeder lines.
  • Indoors, only hang lights on a fresh tree or an artificial tree labeled as fire-resistant.
  • String lights carefully so light strands and cords are not pinched in windows, doors or under furniture, which can damage the cord’s insulation and increase the risk of short circuits.
  • Keep holiday lights on only during the evening hours and turn them off when you go to bed or leave the house.
  • Cover unused outlets on light strands and extension cords with electrical tape or plastic caps to minimize the risk of short circuits or pets or children contacting a live circuit.
  • Holiday lights are meant to be temporary. Take lights down when the season is over and store strands carefully for next year.

With careful attention to safety, you can enjoy stunning holiday light displays for many joyous seasons to come.

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The Winter Landscape

Although the blooms of summer are a distant memory and the splendor of fall is neatly raked into the compost pile, don’t think your yard has to be dreary from now until spring. Background planting, berries, bark and even blooms are the secrets of a colorful and interesting winter landscape.

Background Planting

Evergreens are the mainstay of the winter landscape. When the shade and flowering trees and shrubs of spring and summer have entered their winter sleep, it’s evergreens that take the stage. Spruce, cedar, pine, hemlock, arborvitae, yew and juniper – there are many beautiful varieties suitable for foundation or specimen planting, windbreaks, screens and groundcovers. Some change into their ‘winter wardrobe’ too: “Reingold” Arborvitae takes on a coppery hue, while junipers like “Bar Harbor” and “Prince of Wales” turn bronzy purple. Don’t forget broad-leaved evergreens for texture contrast, plus make use of evergreen perennials like Coral Bells (Heuchera), Thrift (Armeria), Creeping Phlox, Candytuft (Iberis) and varieties of Sedum for groundcover or edging. A few ornamental grasses such as Blue Fescue retain their color in winter and can create interesting and colorful tufts in a barren landscape. The foliage and flowers of others, like Miscanthus and Fountain Grass (Pennisetum), dry to a biscuit color and look particularly effective against a snowy backdrop.

Berries

Berry-bearing plants are a boon for birds and other wildlife, as well as being a decorative addition to the winter landscape. Try prickly Pyracantha, colorful cotoneaster and hardy hollies – a must for holiday decorating. Hollies come in many shapes and sizes for all sorts of landscaping situations. Plant a dwarf grower like “Blue Angel” (Ilex meserveae ‘Blue Angel’) as a foundation plant, a medium grower like “China Girl” (Ilex cornuta ‘China Girl’) as a screen or hedge and a tall grower like “Nellie Stevens” (Ilex) as a specimen. Hollies require a male pollinator for best berry production. Be sure and ask which pollinator you need for the variety you select.

Bark

The beautiful bark which many trees and shrubs exhibit can be seen at its best during winter, when leaves have fallen and surrounding plants are bare. Paperbark Maple (Acer griseum) is a delightful small specimen tree with reddish-brown bark that exfoliates in thin papery sheets. Consider white-barked European or Himalayan Birch or water-loving River Birch with its eye-catching grey-brown to cinnamon colored peeling bark. For attractive mottled trunks, plant Stewartia and Crepe Myrtle. The dazzling stems of Red and Yellow Twig Dogwood brighten as the winter progresses bringing cheer to dreary days. Twig Dogwoods look particularly stunning when planted in groupings in front of evergreen trees.

Blooms

Even in the middle of winter, there are a few plants that will surprise us with flowers. Perennial Christmas Rose (Helleborus niger) has pretty white buttercup-like flowers; its cousin, Lenten Rose (H. orientalis) blooms a little later with flowers ranging from purplish green to white and pink. Both are shade-loving and grow slowly to a loose evergreen clump. Witch Hazel (Hammamelis mollis) is a large, multi-stemmed shrub with fragrant late winter blooms in yellow, orange or red. Other late winter bloomers, all of which are also fragrant, include Leatherleaf Mahonia (Mahonia bealii), Wintersweet (Chimonanthus praecox) and Sweet Box (Sarcoccoca).

Stop by soon and talk to us about planning your landscape to include background plantings, berries, bark and blooms for winter interest. Your yard will never have the winter doldrums again!

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Winter Warmth with a Chimenea

Is it just a bit chilly to sit outside and enjoy your fall or winter garden? Hundreds of years ago, Mexicans had the same problem. They solved it by making chimeneas and using them for heat and cooking. Will a modern chimenea help you enjoy your outdoor living space even as the weather turns cooler?

What Is a Chimenea?

The original chimeneas were made of clay with a distinct pot-belly look with an elongated chimney structure on top. Decorated with paint and incisions in the clay, each was unique and functional as well as decorative. Now, in addition to the original classic style, chimeneas are available in a wide variety of styles and materials to match every type of outdoor decor. Stainless steel, accessorized in a wide assortment of colors and finishes, is durable, strong and heavy. Cast iron construction is also sturdy and popular, and different shapes include more tapered designs, cones or unique dimensions. Some chimeneas are plain, while others may have relief carvings of flames, vines, suns, stripes or other decorations as part of their construction. Painted designs are also popular. Some designs even feature whimsical elements, such as a jack-o-lantern face, a chubby bear or other fun caricature carved into the structure.

No matter what the construction, chimeneas also have stands or legs to lift them several inches off the ground. Iron stands are popular, while some chimeneas have built-in stubby legs to serve the same purpose.

Chimeneas Indoors

Not only are they great garden accents, but chimeneas are also popular indoor decorating items. A philodendron or fern tumbling out from the opening is fun and sets your decorating theme. A terra cotta pot-bellied style sets well in a primitive or rustic décor in a screen room or enclosed porch. A sleek black pyramidal style blends into a contemporary setting. Of course, you can’t use it as a heat source when in the house unless it is designed to burn gel fuel and proper ventilation is available.

We have a fantastic assortment of chimeneas to grace your outdoor or indoor living space. From the classic terra cotta potbelly style to contemporary black cast iron with wood storage space, we have the perfect chimenea to warm you as you enjoy the fall and winter evenings. Come on in to see the selection. Our helpful staff can answer your questions, and can even hold your choice until Santa comes in to pick it for you.

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Christmas Fairy Gardens

Let the magic of miniature fairy gardens give you the Christmas you’ve always wanted. You can create the garden and entry of your dreams without breaking the bank, redoing your landscaping or remodeling your home!

Are you feeling nostalgic for a Victorian Christmas? Create your own Christmas outdoor scene. Start with a shallow container and choose a Victorian house. Then, from our exciting assortment of diminutive plants, miniature pots and small-but-realistic lawn ornaments, create your own holiday front yard, walkway, porch and entrance. Use tiny containers to flank the doors, a decorated dwarf conifer as an outdoor Christmas tree, ribbons over the windows and colored sand or mini-pavers along the pathway. You can even add a decorated doghouse, shed, or teensy wrought iron table under a gazebo.

Maybe a white picketed seashore cottage is your dream. Create it in miniature! Add a rustic mailbox, vine twig furniture and a tiny surfboard in the sandy surface and you can almost hear the ocean. Twinkling LED lights add a festive touch, or opt for a tiny palm tree strung with holiday ornaments.

Perhaps you’re an apartment dweller, dreaming of having your own veggie garden. Assemble a miniature garden with realistic tiny vegetables, tool shed and tools. Add a wishing well, a wheelbarrow and scarecrow. Put in a chicken coop with tiny chickens. Your friends will be looking for Peter Rabbit! For a winter touch, add a fun snowman to the scene.

Maybe you’re not looking for something for yourself. Are you seeking a unique hostess gift? Consider planting a tiny Japanese garden with a moon bridge arching over a pond stocked with koi. A simple miniature garden with a few personalized items your host will love such as a lawn swing, bicycle, or fairy hiding in a small bush is sure to bring a smile to their face.

Give the gift of time by constructing a miniature garden with a child or shut-in. A shared miniature garden is an ongoing fun project, and you can rearrange the garden and create new scenes with very visit or for every season. Create a wonderful opportunity to share stories and imaginative fun while fostering a love of gardening.

Stocked with a huge assortment of miniature and fairy garden accessories, our gift shop offers everything you need to make your Christmas miniature garden. If you need visual ideas, our bookshelves are stocked with beautifully illustrated books chock full of mini-decorating and gardening ideas. Come on in and get ideas, choose your items and make your Christmas dreams come true.

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Living Christmas Wreath

For a unique holiday wreath, consider a living wreath you can enjoy throughout the year. These make beautiful gifts and are a fun project for the entire family to enjoy.

Materials Needed:

  • Wire wreath form (these come in a variety of shapes and sizes – a larger form will require less frequent watering)
  • Sphagnum moss (long-fiber is best)
  • Potting mix (soil mix for containers)
  • Plants (plants should have similar soil, sunlight and watering requirements)
  • Thin wire or “florist’s wire”

Procedure:

  1. Soak the sphagnum moss in water for 1-2 hours.
  2. Gently squeeze the moss to remove excess water. Pack and pat the moss into the bottom and sides of the form, covering the bottom and side wire to create space for the soil.
  3. Add slightly moistened soil between the moss walls, leaving the surface approximately one inch below the top of the form.
  4. Remove the plants from their pots and arrange them on the form. Try several arrangements to find the one you like best, taking care to balance plant sizes and shapes around the wreath.
  5. Using a spoon, dig holes and plant. Cover roots completely while planting.
  6. Cover the exposed soil with additional moss and tuck moss around the plants to retain the soil. This can also help cover any root tops that may still be exposed.
  7. If needed, wrap the form with floral wire to help hold the plants in place or add additional stability to the arrangement.
  8. Water the wreath and keep flat for two weeks to establish the plants and allow their roots to gain purchase.
  9. Until spring temperatures are in upper 40s, hang indoors in a bright or sunny location. During the holidays, use as a flat centerpiece surrounding candles with evergreen cuttings and pinecones. Hang it on the wall as a “picture frame” around prior holiday pictures or a small mirror. You could even frame an advent calendar or picture of Santa Claus!
  10. Between the holidays and spring, water weekly by misting. (You may need to move to a sink for watering). Fertilize every other month by mixing half-dilution of liquid fertilizer into the watering mist.
  11. In spring, move outdoors and hang in a bright but shaded location to prevent burning. Higher temperatures require more frequent watering. Continue to fertilize every other month.

Options: 

  • Consider using shells, pinecones or other items to add depth and interest.
  • For holidays, wrap a portion with colorful ribbon or insert short thin rods with ornaments or seasonal figures into the soil.
  • Succulents with low watering requirements are popular for wreaths. Available in a variety of colors and textures, plant the wreath with just one variety or use an assortment for a completely different look.
  • Use Epiphytic (“air plants”), bits of driftwood and shells for an ocean appearance.

Our garden center has many sizes and styles of forms, plants and other materials to meet your needs. Come on in to see us and get your decorating on!

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Create a Beautiful Tree in 6 Easy Steps

Have you ever wondered how to create that beautiful Christmas tree, the kind featured in photo shoots and magazines? Whether you opt for a live potted tree, a fresh cut pine or an artificial tree you can reuse for several years, the steps to a stunning, artistic tree are the same, and you don’t have to be an interior designer to create a lovely Christmas tree. 

  1. Color
    Pick a theme color or color pair. This may be colors you simply like together, or you could mimic school colors, a favorite sports team or classic holiday pairings like burgundy and gold or blue and silver. Consider your tree theme and choose colors accordingly, such as blue and aqua for a tropical, undersea tree, or white and silver for a winter wonderland tree.
  2. Lights
    Use one strand of 70 to 100 lights for each foot of tree (7 strands for a 7-foot tree). This will be the approximate ratio on a pre-lit artificial tree, or you will need to add lights to a live tree. Spread the strands out evenly, and tuck wires into the tree so they are less visible. White lights or a single color are generally more elegant than multi-colored strands.
  3. Ribbon
    Plan on 40 to 60 yards of ribbon unless the tree is in a corner. The treetop will typically take 10-15 yards of this amount. You can also mix two ribbons for a nice effect, too. Wire-edged ribbon is easier to shape into graceful curves, and a broad ribbon will make a more dramatic impact, particularly on a larger tree. Drape the trailing edges of ribbon down the sides of the tree, either straight toward the ground or in a graceful spiral.
  4. Accents
    Add silk or dried flowers as your next step along with garland. Make sure flowers are placed at different depths within the tree so there is dimension. Holiday flowers such as poinsettias are most popular, but you can opt for different blooms to coordinate with your theme, such as roses for a Victorian tree or tropical flowers for a festive beach-themed tree.
  5. Balls
    Use 6-8 boxes of plain glass ball ornaments, either all the same color or 3-4 boxes each of two coordinating colors. Tuck some of these ornaments deeper within the tree to reflect more light and add depth to your decorating. A medium-size ornament is appropriate, or choose balls of different sizes but in the same plain color and basic shape.
  6. Ornaments
    Add themed ornaments last for that finishing touch and to give your tree some whimsy and pizzazz, but try not to go overboard with quirkiness. If you prefer a simpler, more elegant look, avoid overly themed ornaments but choose simple colored ornaments in different shapes that match your overall color plan, such as using drip, icicle, or star-shaped ornaments to complete the tree.

Voila! You have a Christmas tree that will bring beauty and elegance to your holiday decorating all season long.

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Time-Saving Tips for the Holidays

With shopping, decorating, baking, cooking, travel, entertaining and more all part of the holidays, it’s a wonder there is any time left over to just enjoy the season. These time-saving tips can help you make the most of every minute without sacrificing the joy and celebration that matters most at this time of year.

  • Start early! You may not enjoy seeing “Christmas Creep” in stores before Halloween, but if you start addressing holiday cards ahead of time, make freezer recipes for holiday meals or try shopping for holiday gifts with Columbus Day, Veteran’s Day and other fall sales, you’ll have far less to do the closer the holidays get.
  • Tabletop topiaries are great for holiday decorating, and need nothing more than a festive bow for instant seasonal appeal. They also make a green and growing addition to your home when you need it most in the late winter months. Pick one up from the nursery for an instant gift – no wrapping needed!
  • Cast stone cherubs and garden sculptures make wonderful holiday decorations set off by greens and berries. When the holidays are over, you don’t need to lug them into storage. You can even change their decorations seasonally to reuse them as fun and whimsical accents throughout the year.
  • Present gifts in reusable gift bags, stockings, baskets, tins and garden totes for easy wrapping job that’s recyclable. For even more flair, use a colorful scarf as an impromptu ribbon, or trim the package with seed packets or small garden tools instead of disposable bows.
  • Start Amaryllis and Paperwhite bulbs now. Use potting soil rather than gravel for longer lasting blooms. Also consider other living holiday gifts, such as fragrant herbs, luxurious poinsettias or even a shaped rosemary plant or miniature Norfolk Island Pine decorated for the season.
  • Float a candle or a sprig of greens in a crystal bowl for an instant elegant center piece. Add more color with marbles or pebbles in the bowl, or choose a bowl with etching or seasonal patterns for subtle flair.
  • Start your holiday baking early and freeze doughs or completed recipes to save time later. Baked goods – cookies, breads and fudges – also make delicious and easy gifts, with no extra time needed for another batch if you’ve doubled the recipe.
  • Keep a few extra wrapped gifts in a handy closet, labeling the contents with Post-It notes so you can quickly choose a gift for an unexpected guest. Easy items to give include warm gloves or socks, fragrant candles, seasonal photo frames, mini tabletop games, tote bags and luxury soaps.
  • Don’t be afraid to delegate! Consider a pot luck holiday dinner, enlist your kids to keep the tree stand full of water, share shopping tasks with a sibling, join a cookie exchange for less stress holiday baking or shop online to have gifts wrapped and delivered right to the recipients.
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Care of Christmas Greens

Fresh cut greens – pine boughs, holly sprigs, mistletoe, etc. – are wonderful for winter and holiday décor, both indoors and out. Extend the life and enjoyment of your fresh greens by following these easy steps:

  • SOAK – Immerse greens in cold water overnight or up to 24 hours. The needles will soak up moisture to stay plump and firm. A good location for accomplishing this task is in a utility sink or bath tub, but be sure the water won’t freeze while the greens are soaking. Use only fresh, plain water without any additives or chemicals.
  • DRY – Allow greens to drip dry for an hour or so in a well-ventilated area out of direct sunlight. This will remove excess water from the branch ends so they do not leak.
  • SPRAY – If desired, spray Wilt-Pruf, an anti-transpirant, on greens when they are finished dripping. This will seal moisture into the needles extending the life of your greens. Do not use this on Princess Pine, and note that this product may change the color of blue-colored cut greens like Colorado Blue Spruce and Blue Juniper. Test the spray on an inconspicuous area first to be sure you don’t mind any changes.
  • DRY – Allow the greens to dry thoroughly after spraying and before decorating and hanging or arranging. This will be sure there are no water spots on any of your bows, accent pieces or ornaments that are part of your fresh arrangements.
  • COOL – Keep greens in as cool a location as possible, out of direct sunlight and away from any heat source, including heating vents, ceiling fans and air ducts. Moving arrangements of fresh greens onto a cool porch or into a garage each night can help extend their vibrancy.
  • BUNDLE – Arrange your fresh greens in dense bundles and bunches, either as wreaths, vase arrangements or swags. As a group, they will help keep each other fresh with slightly higher humidity between each green.
  • CLEAN – Keep fresh greens crisp and clean through the holiday season by dusting them lightly. Use only a clean, lint-free cloth without any sprays or chemicals. This will remove dust that may dim the arrangements, but chemicals could damage the greens or change their colors. Do not brush the greens so harshly that you may damage or dislodge their needles, foliage or berries.

With proper care, your fresh cut greens can be stunning holiday decorations for several days or weeks, bringing a touch of nature into your home even when the world is cased in ice and snow.