When it comes to holiday decor, many of us opt for the flashy, vibrant, and decadent. 20ft tall inflatable yard snowmen and 500ft of glittering, rainbow string lights are sure to make an impression—how could Santa miss a runway strip so graciously adorned? But, for others, holiday cheer isn’t worth a $500 electric bill. Personally, I’m a fan of simple, natural-looking decorations that are light on the eyes and on the bank. To me, the best decor is the kind that utilizes and emphasizes what’s already there. So, for this holiday season, I’m thinking about ways to deck out my existing landscape and bring some winter greenery indoors—here are a few suggestions.
This time of year, lounging by a roaring fire and feasting on holiday sweets seems far preferable to braving the cold to dig out in the garden. But don’t completely surrender to holiday lethargy just yet…there’s still a few cold-season gardening and landscaping chores to complete before a deep freeze sets in. Before you settle into the winter, make sure your yard is prepped for a productive spring—no work now could mean a lot of work later.
December Landscaping Checklist
Add Mulch after First Frost
Once a good frost has hit, you can fortify your trees and shrubs by adding a 2-inch layer of straw, fallen leaves, or mulch around their bases. This extra layer of warmth will help keep plant roots protected during prolonged cold spells.
Deck the Halls with Boughs of Holly
An indoor, potted holly plant is perfect for the holidays. If kept well-watered, holly plants can thrive inside for up to 10 days. After that, they need to be undecked from the halls and moved to a sunny spot outside, where they can be transplanted into the soil and mulched along with other evergreen shrubs.
Gather Leaves for Compost
If you’re not using your dead leaves as mulch, it’s not too late to compost them. Likely, the ground is still covered with crunchy, brown leaves that would make the perfect food for a compost pile. Add dead leaves into a mesh of organic matter (egg shells, coffee grinds, manure, banana peels etc) and let “cook” over the winter.
Feed Winter Flowers
In December, winter temperatures are still relatively mild and cold-season flowers can thrive as long as they’re tended to. Flowers like pansies and snapdragons should continue to be fed with fertilizer and watered if it’s dry.
Feed the Birds
Nothing invigorates a dull and drab winter day like watching birds peck at a bird feeder. This time of year, suitable bird food can be hard to come by, and birds could use a little help getting the nutrients they need to brave colder temperatures. Plus, bird feeders can help bring some life to a lifeless garden.
Seasoned gardeners and landscapers know that lawn care is a year-round investment. A lawn left alone during the winter months is likely to have a hard time coming back to life in the spring. This winter, remember to get outside when you can and reconnect with your landscape. Working a bit in the yard could provide welcome relief after all of that turkey and pie.
It’s a practice tried and true: preserving fruits and vegetables for the cold, barren months by canning them. Those of us who grew up around produce gardens and green-thumb families are likely well acquainted with the taste of canned beans or peaches. For some of us, home canned fruits and veggies are a kind of modest delicacy—cheap, easy, and made possible by a labor of love. If you’ve never tried canning before, now is the perfect time to try it. In weather this chilly, a bit of preserved summer freshness is a welcome relief.
The Basics of Canning
Before the advent of refrigeration, canning was an essential practice used by many families to preserve their summer haul of fruits and veggies. Back then, canned fruits and veggies were about the only kind of fruits and veggies available during the winter months, and so families had to use preservation tactics to ensure that they would have access to produce year-round. Now, canning is less essential for middle class families. Most households have refrigerators and freezers, and anyone can buy canned or frozen fruits and veggies at a grocery store. But, for some, canning is still an important post-harvest ritual.
Not all produce is ideal for canning. Generally, any canned vegetable you can buy at the store can be replicated at home. Some common canning vegetables include: beans, carrots, peas, peppers, tomatoes, corn, and pickled cucumbers and onions. Canned jams and sauces are also popular canning recipes.
The canning process involves packing fruits or vegetables into a sterile (boiled in water) glass jar that is then sealed with a lid to prevent the growth of bacteria and mold. Different vegetables require different forms of preparation before canning. Most vegetables need to be pressure cooked prior to packing to ensure lasting freshness. In the case of pickles or jams, ingredients like sugar, salt, and vinegar are added during the canning process to create specific flavors. A simple canning recipe for just about any suitable fruit or veggie can be found online.
Canning is relatively easy, but finding the space and storage for canned goods can be difficult. Canning requires mason jars, pots for boiling water, and a place to cook fresh vegetables. If you can regularly, investing in a pressure cooker could make the process a lot easier and less time consuming.
For more on the specifics of canning vegetables, pressure cooking, and the process and theory behind canning, check out: http://www.healthycanning.com/canning-vegetables/
It may seem counter-intuitive to think about growing grass in the off-season, but sod installations are surprisingly durable. Technically, sod can be planted any time of year—as long as it’s well taken care of after planting. Temperature, soil conditions, watering schedules, and other environmental changes influence how quickly a cut of sod acclimates to an existing lawn. If you’re planning on putting in sod, it’s important to take the necessary precautions to ensure its success considering the environment it’s being placed into. Here are some tips on cultivating sod during the cold season:
Holiday gift giving is as tender and heartwarming as it is frustrating and stressful. Though all of our loved ones likely proclaim that they care not for material things, the pressure to make people feel special through carefully curated holiday gifts is still very real. If that special someone in your life happens to be a gardener, you’re in luck: we’ve scoured the farthest corners of the internet searching for the niftiest gardening gift ideas so you don’t have to! Here are some suggestions:
A Stylish Pair of Gardening Gloves
For the gardener who also dabbles in looking fabulous: throw away that dingy old pair of brown gardening gloves and replace them with something a bit more vibrant and expressive. After all, why shouldn’t your gardening gloves—one of the most essential gardening tools there is—be any less exciting than your flower pots?
A Succulent Garden
A succulent garden is the perfect gift for an amateur gardener—someone who is interested in cultivating a green thumb but frequently forgets that plants need water. Succulents are beautiful, suspiciously cute, and shamelessly easy to take care of. Buy a succulent starting kit online and watch as your favorite amateur gardener gets a colossal confidence boost.
It wouldn’t be 2017 without the word “rustic” being used to describe everything from weddings to craft beer. If you ask me, rustic planters make a little more sense than rustic beverages. Try one made out of weathered tin or a repurposed wagon wheel. You could even make your own, though we know you’d probably rather buy one from Etsy.
Tree Planting Kit
Giving into consumer impulses feels a lot more wholesome when you can help better the environment at the same time. Truth is, planting trees never goes out of style, and the entire family can come together to enjoy this experiential present. Perfect for those who like giving as much (or almost as much) as they like gifts.
A Quirky Birdhouse
Your typical, plain cylindrical bird feeder is well and good—but have your ever considered upgrading to a full-blown Large Victorian Birdhouse? This kind of present is sure to impress eccentric, bird-loving relatives and birds alike. After all, even the birds deserve a home for the holidays.
To me, one of the most profound gifts of gardening is the way it teaches us to appreciate and love our industriousness, and the industriousness of the world around us. In modern society, people are often separated from the fruits of their labors. We work mostly for abstract things: paying bills, buying groceries, saving for retirement. It is easy to feel a lack of control and, perhaps, a lack of appreciation for what our bodies can give us. People remedy this feeling in different ways. I like to take the occasional camping trip out to the boonies, where I can sleep in the forest and build a fire for warmth—self-reliant and self-sufficient for the most part. During the work week, I commune with my body by exercising and, in the warmer months, I dabbled in gardening. It’s vital to have these unfiltered, physical moments in the midst of a life filled with work, screens, and virtual realities. After focusing ad nauseum on bills and deadlines, I like creating something that has nothing to do with money or prestige.
Gardening, in particular, is a humble hobby. It requires pushing your hands into the dirt over and over again, ruining blue jeans, and getting freckled in the sun. There’s not much money to be made in gardening—most of us make a living doing something else. But gardening does produce a reward—one that is intimately tied to the work gardeners do with their bodies. After months of planning, planting, digging, weeding, beautifying, feeding, and carefully observing their plants, gardeners can enjoy a bountiful and well-deserved harvest. I’m not the best gardener out there, but I know how it feels to hold something homegrown in my hands, to savor its deliciousness and the modest beauty of eating a food that I created. No, it didn’t come from a box or a bag I picked up at the super market, I didn’t buy it with my paycheck, and I know exactly what kind of work went into making it. This knowledge always fosters within me a sense that the world still works right, despite how often it seems to be falling apart. Beneath the politics and grievances and daily moments of exhaustion, there is still an underlying system in which a seed that is planted into the ground can grow into something sustainable.
This Thanksgiving, give thanks to your own industriousness by adding some homegrown fixings to your dinner spread. Speaking from experience, I can say beyond a doubt that fresh cranberries are even better than the slimy (but delicious) canned version. And potatoes plucked fresh from the earth taste spectacular mashed with butter. Garden fresh-food is best paired with conversations about simple truths, namely: money and work and the things we each have to do to put a roof over our heads and food in our mouths are not the only parts of life that matter. We have ourselves, our families, and our love—and that matters more, maybe even most.
It’s no surprise that most avid gardeners prefer the summer months to the winter ones. In summer, daylight is plentiful and gardeners have ample time to dig, plant, and sow. In the winter, sunshine and warmth—two things plants love—are in short supply. This past weekend, nighttime temperatures hit freezing in Southwest Virginia, and local gardeners had to confront a discomforting truth: the time for digging in soft, fertile ground is nearly over. Everywhere, the trees are shedding their leaves and the mountain greenery is dulling. Everywhere—that is—except for the great indoors.
Though the average passerby may be unaware of how much careful planning and meticulous creation goes into a city’s public landscapes, landscaping professionals are well versed in why landscaping matters—and what makes it most effective. Ideally, a well-done landscape does fit in seamlessly with the surrounding cityscape by complimenting and emphasizing already existing green space. But creating this seamless design takes work and resources. Many public landscaping projects suffer from lack of funding, especially in urban centers where poverty abounds. Equitable, smart, and accessible landscaping serves to benefit everyone in a community by increasing participation in local commerce, encouraging physical activity, supporting the environment, and providing psychological and emotional benefits. Engaged citizens can invest in the welfare of their city by investing in public landscaping projects, here’s why:
This past October was characterized by unseasonable summer heat that, at times, seemed never ending. A few chilly mornings and brisk evenings inevitably gave way to days where an ice bath sounded like the pinnacle of refreshment. Now, it looks like fall has finally arrived: the leaves are swiftly falling, I’m breaking out my winter coat, and my summer plants are dusted with frost most every morning. Indeed, the time for summer gardening has ended—replaced by fall harvests and early-winter prep. November is the perfect time for this transition—temperatures are mild and sunlight is still readily available. It’s best to get out early and do your cool-season gardening chores before early sunsets and frigid weather resign you to binge-watching the new season of Stranger Things on your couch.
November Gardening Checklist
If you’ve just bought a house, updating the landscaping may not be your top priority. For many homeowners, landscaping is an afterthought; something that requires too much time and money to be essential. But a simple, smartly designed landscape is not necessarily expensive, and the upkeep it requires, if planned properly, can be easily accomplished every week. At Roanoke Landscapes, we want clients to know that the benefits of landscape design justify the effort it takes to get a lawn or garden in top shape. In fact, smart landscaping creates value and improves quality of life in a number of ways—many of which are often overlooked or understated. Here’s a run-down of what a smartly designed landscape can offer homeowners and communities broadly:
Photo by barnyz on Flickr.