Here's what you can do with the tree after Christmas.
It doesn’t take long to grow tired of the holiday season. Some will look at the day after Christmas as the end of the season. They’ll take down the decorations, pack away the ornaments and wash and put away cookie tins until next year.
Others will drag out the holiday, and hopefully its spirit, until mid-January. Some might make it to Valentine’s Day, but by then it’s probably more out of laziness.
There is no correct time. You know when it’s right … or are forced by others to acknowledge what is right.
If you have an artificial tree and are not ashamed to admit it while reading a gardening column, skip the next 12 paragraphs.
For those with real trees, teardown tends to be lots easier than setup, unless you have someone who is obsessive-compulsive about how ornaments are put away, and that strands of lights are checked and double-checked for burnt-out bulbs and then wrapped carefully around a sturdy
piece of cardboard, and tinsel is laid flat in a box between layers of white tissue paper.
If that’s the case, go enjoy a hot cup of cocoa and the crossword puzzle.
Once the tree is de-ornamented, you simply have to get it outside without most of the needles cascading into every crack of the hardwood floor or under each loop of the carpet.
You can buy large plastic bags that encase the tree like a cocoon. Simply pull the loops at the top and the tree is ready to be hauled to the curb.
Others may take old sheets and twine and bind the tree like Houdini in a straitjacket.
Most will merely keep their fingers crossed that needles stay on the tree until the nanosecond the limbs cross the threshold. At that point, no one cares if needles remain stuck to the twigs or if they give up and succumb to gravity.
Once the tree is outdoors, you can go totally green and set up the tree in the backyard for birds.
Take strands of popcorn that doesn’t make it past all the football bowl games. Find some pinecones, melt some suet from the grocer, and roll the cones in birdseeds. Or, you can just buy some birdseed balls to hang on the limbs.
Even cranberries can be strung with care. Not all birds may go after them but the squirrels might. Make sure you’re stringing raw cranberries.
It hasn’t been decided if leftover fruitcake is animal-friendly. If they don’t eat it, you can probably re-gift it next year.
If you don’t want to worry about providing shelter from the snow and food for two-legged and four-legged creatures, and haven’t read Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” you can take your saw or loppers to the boughs and use them as mulch around newly planted trees, shrubs or perennials such as chrysanthemums and boxwoods.
Cut the branches as close to the trunk as possible. Most of the limbs lie on the ground better if flipped upside down.
For other holiday plants, you need to analyze your so-called green thumb.
If you think your thumb is tourmaline or emerald, then caring for the plants is a piece of fruitcake. You realize that most plants enjoy high humidity, lots of sunlight and little or no fertilizer. You group plants together, place them next to a humidifier or on a pebble-filled tray with water just slightly below the bottom of the pots. Bright sunny windows are a given.
You don’t fret about leaves dropping here and there since you know the poinsettias, cyclamen and Christmas cacti can survive with your well-tuned care.
If your thumb is more chartreuse in color, you realize the plants might make it to May when you can set them outside for the summer. You keep those yellow-green fingers crossed that plants won’t be sticks in the upcoming 20 weeks.
Plants will need more light if the upcoming days are dreary and gray. Snow would be great as light intensity increases. Otherwise, the poinsettia sheds leaves just slightly slower than pines, spruces and firs.
You know the foil covering the pot will only hold water and cause the plant to rot so you remove it — eventually, but not before enjoying the shininess of the holiday colors. (The dark green thumb gardeners took the foil off in one sweeping motion as the plant was brought in the house. Those plants probably were put in decorative cache pots.)
Black thumbers may attempt to keep the plants through the new year, but most are as wise as the Magi and say “Well, that’s it for the holidays. We’ll get more plants next year. Are there any cookies left?”
And just like that, the plants are gone from the dwelling with the trees. And no matter what you do with the trees and the holiday plants, the sun comes up in the east tomorrow. Just like a certain star did more than two millennia ago.
David Robson is a specialist with University of Illinois Extension. For more gardening information or for your local extension unit office, go to www.extension.uiuc.edu/mg. Call the Sangamon-Menard Unit Sangamon County office at 782-4617.