It's Time to ...

Repurpose your cut Christmas tree. Don't put your tree out for trash pickup; use it in the garden.

Prepare your rooted Christmas tree for the cold. After you've put away all the decorations (this week or next), move the tree to a garage or cold porch for one to two weeks. Then, if the ground freezes before you dig a deep enough hole, find a temporary sheltered spot for the tree and pile mulch around the roots as winter protection. The best planting site will allow enough space for the tree to grow to its maximum size. Assume that yours, like many evergreens sold as Christmas trees, could end up being 50 to 60 feet tall and 12 to 15 feet wide.

Repurpose your cut Christmas tree. Don't put your tree out for trash pickup; use it in the garden. If you have enough space, lay the tree on its side, secured so it doesn't blow away. Presto! You've made a wonderful shelter for birds. You can also cut up the tree branches and use them as great garden mulch.

Mow the lawn one last time. Sounds crazy, right? But if you're tired of raking, here's a tip from a colleague: Mowing over the leaves and grinding them is better for the lawn in the long run. The ground leaves will replenish the organic matter in the soil, making for a healthier lawn next year. So bundle up and go for the last mow of 2012.

Tend your indoor garden. Remove dead and damaged leaves and stems. If you find webs on leaves and stems, spider mites have moved in. Control them with a homemade spray - a cup of water and a drop of dish-washing liquid. Rinse after three hours to avoid soap buildup. Because insects reproduce frequently, repeat once a week for no more than three weeks. Another pest common to indoor plants is mealy bug, easy to find because of the cottony substance it produces. These bugs like to hide in tight spaces so look in all the nooks and crannies. Use a cotton swab or your fingertip to rub them off stems and leaves.

Take a stroll in the winter garden. I like to walk around the garden, even on a cold winter day. Along the way I'll often spot something to do, so I always carry my trusty pruners, just in case. Even if I don't have a job in mind, the garden usually nudges me to take action. On a walk last week, I removed a number of eye-level branches along garden paths. Of course, it was more work than walk, but I felt satisfied.


Patricia Schrieber is director of education for the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society (, and co-owner of Valentine Gardens ( Contact her at