Lifestyle

COMPLEAT HOME GARDENER: Let bedazzling begin

It’s the second week of December and if you haven’t discovered the joys of gold and silver spray paint, this is the year to start bedazzling your garden. Cut a whorl of rhododendron leaves and with the push of a button you can have golden foliage that looks a lot like poinsettias. Spray paint bare branches silver or bedeck your cut evergreens with fake snow – all just sprayed from a can. Dried blooms from alliums, sedums and hydrangeas make lovely golden decorations for indoors or out. Add your glittering greens to outdoor container gardens or use them to accent window boxes and door swags.

‘Tis the season to harvest from your garden and go green for the holidays so use newspaper instead of gift wrap and tie up your packages with bright red yard. Add a sprig of holly or cedar from the garden and you’ll see why saving cents just makes sense in the garden.

Q. I want to hang Christmas lights on my hardy jasmine vine but heard the warmth from the lights could convince the plant to come out of dormancy and then a cold blast would kill it. The jasmine is in a protected spot near the front door, which would make it so perfect for a light display. Should I risk it? A.G., Tacoma

A. The easy answer is to use the new LED lights that do not give off heat. Traditional Christmas lights do warm up plants. Some gardeners wrap the trunks of hardy palm trees and other tender plants with white lights all winter long. There are no guarantees that a string of lights will save frost-sensitive plants but warm lights won’t fool your plants into thinking it’s summer either.

Q. I want to plant Irish moss in a bare spot under the shade of a tree and am wondering if this is a good time to add the plants. What do I do to prepare the ground? The area gets morning sun and afternoon shade. J.B., Kelso

A. Wait until spring or your Irish moss wont’ be smiling through the cold winter weather. Groundcovers do better when planted in the spring so they can establish a root system in warmer soil. To prepare the ground for Irish or Scotch moss just loosen the top few inches of soil and mix in a one-inch layer of compost. You can cut groundcover plants into smaller sections and then space these plugs four or five inches apart. But wait until spring to plant; you’ll still have a solid mossy lawn by summer.

Q. There are some plants in my yard that have turned brown and ugly. Some are perennials that were supposed to live for years. I don’t know all their names and the tags have been lost. Can I cut back the tops of these ugly plants? Are they dead? This is the first year I have tried to grow anything and don’t want the relatives to see dead plants when they come for Christmas dinner! W.R., e-mail

A. If it’s ugly cut it out. That simple rule will make cleaning up the winter garden easy and most perennials will do just fine and return next spring with fresh green growth if you cut them back now. There are some shrubby plants like hardy fuchsias and ornamental grasses that prefer to be pruned back in the early spring, but in our climate most perennials will survive a winter haircut. Sometimes the urge to purge your garden of ugly plants forces gardeners to get snippy without looking at the calendar.

Q. How long can I enjoy a living, potted, Christmas tree indoors? I want to buy one at the nursery that I can transplant into my garden after the holidays. D., e-mail

A. Enjoy your indoor tree for just a few days or you’ll be looking at brown needles next summer. Potted fir, cedar and pine trees sold as indoor trees can only handle the warm, dry air for about 48 hours and then they begin to break dormancy, dry out and throw a tantrum. Of course being evergreens, you won’t see the results of this damage until months or even a year later. A better idea is to decorate your tree and leave it outdoors on a covered porch or patio where you can enjoy it from inside.

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Marianne Binetti has a degree in horticulture from Washington State University and is the author of “Easy Answers for Great Gardens” and several other books. For book requests or answers to gardening questions, write to her at: P.O. Box 872, Enumclaw, 98022. Send a self-addressed, stamped envelope for a personal reply.

For more gardening information, she can be reached at her Web site, www.binettigarden.com.

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