This is a good time to prune holly and give the cut twigs for holiday presents.A lot of people with holly trees could save themselves money by doing this.
I have only a few rather young hollies, but even so I can cut enough twigs and branchlets to add to the clutter of the living room. A couple of the Meserve hollies with bluish leaves are slow growing but provide greenery for fleshing out the wreath.
My own favorite among hollies is 'Foster No. 2,' which is said to be a cross between our native Ilex opaca, the ordinary holly of our woods, and Ilex cassine, a very heavily fruiting holly of the South. Foster's holly bears masses of bright red berries, has narrow dark green leaves and grows upright and narrow, especially in youth. I once had one clipped as a very narrow cylinder and it was a pillar of fire by day. (I also had to stake it once it got to 12 feet as it had a way of bending over in ice storms).
A favorite plant of almost everybody is the common mistletoe. Where I grew up you could get heavy branches of it with a stem the size of your wrist or forearm and maybe five feet long. Ah, they don't have mistletoe as they used to. One year I cut a lot of mistletoe and swamp holly (Ilex decidua, which drops its leaves and covers its bare stems with millions of scarlet berries, and which grows in thickets in bottom lands along the Lower Mississippi). I cannot bring myself to pay a dollar for a little sprig of it.
Mistletoe is one of those things like bats, snakes and toads, that has had a bad press. It was referred to as a tree-killer in some article in the current Harper's, for instance, but it no longer bothers me when dunderheads cast slurs at dandy things. The mistletoe is not a parasite, but a partial parasite. It sends its roots into the branches of apple trees and other hosts, but mainly for anchorage. It manufactures its own chlorophyll as honestly as a rose or oak, and does not drain strength from the tree, though the weight of a great mass of mistletoe can break a branch.
Anyway, I find it beautiful, though I have never succeeded in getting it to grow from seed. (The seed does not have to pass through a bird, as many believe, but it does have to have the right host plant. It grows extremely slowly the first few years.)
I wonder if anybody around here cuts mistletoe with a golden sickle at the right stage of the moon. Probably somebody does, as in this capital we have one of everything and two of most.
If anybody tries this, great care should be taken. I fell 40 feet once, at the edge of a bayou, where I was halfway to heaven cutting things. You cannot believe (in your twenties) that you could ever fall out of a tree, but you can.
A word about birds in the winter garden, if you please. It is shocking that nowadays they charge you for suet at the grocery store. Undoubtedly they just throw it away, but when you ask for it they charge you. I do not see how a republic can stand once you have to pay for suet and neck bones.
But of course it is just the thing (suet) for assorted birds, especially those of the woodpecking persuasion. Recently we had two pileated woodpeckers in the garden, a great honor as we have no tree worthy of them, and of course some flickers and smaller woodpeckers. The suet is enclosed in a cylinder of what I always called rabbit wire, which is now called hardware cloth. Unfortunately starlings love it and so do squirrels. Theoretically if you suspend the suet feeder from a long wire the squirrels cannot reach it, but as you know, a squirrel can reach almost anything. They leap through the air, they crawl right up drain pipes to dizzying heights and I think they can scramble up greased glass. Never mind all that, suet is still a fine thing for the birds.
Raisins are, of course, the ultimate food for mockingbirds. They like to eat in the morning. For that matter, they eat 24 hours if you cater to them. We had a neighbor who fed them raisins when she arose for breakfast. She got the idea (since the mockingbirds were always there waiting) she was delaying their morning feast, so she got up earlier and earlier. So did the mocking- birds. I think the first feeding got to 5 a.m., and I believed the poor birds had to get up much earlier than they liked to be there for the raisins. She kept trying to please the birds and the birds kept trying to please her, but my view is that 8 a.m. is early enough.
Bluejays, I fear, were devastated by some epidemic for a year or so, but I saw one not long ago. They surpass all other birds in the peanut department. You throw out some peanuts in their shells and from nowhere the jays descend to make off with the shell the instant it lands. They crack them up in the tree.
Cardinals and the Lord only knows who else are enchanted with sunflower seeds. I love the cardinals, not only for their beauty, but because they come early in the morning and quite late in the afternoon to feed. House sparrows get on nicely with juncos, but many people do not like sparrows, not even the ones that sing so well. It seems to me they are more variable than they used to be, with all their stripes nowadays. I do not like to encourage them, and always take care to make the entrance holes to the wren boxes too small for sparrows to enter, but of course I feed them all winter. They are one of the birds that like stale bread on the snow. Needless to say, once you start feeding, you keep up till spring. But even gardeners who do not feed on the grand scale -- thistle seed, suet, sunflower, mixed seed, nuts, etc. -- will wish to throw out bread or seeds after heavy snows.