You've never worked harder in the garden than you have this year, and your better judgment suggests that this is the time to call it quits for the year. No matter what projects remain undone, they'll certainly wait until next year. Maybe yes, maybe no; it all depends on the subject.
For example, if the garden shop is delivering a balled Christmas tree to your home today or tomorrow, you can't call it quits just yet. In fact, there's no quitting for the next four weeks if you want a tree that survives the winter.
Then, there are the dethatched lawns of the past two weeks waiting to be overseeded; you can't postpone that either.
Really, there's no choice but to get the priority jobs done, then move on with the Christmas spirit. The problem for the moment is the balled Christmas tree to be delivered momentarily.
Let me first suggest that you modify your plans for the balled Christmas tree. Don't bring this tree indoors; instead, decorate it and keep it outside for the holidays. The trade-off here is that the tree won't die over the winter and, frankly, this is a huge insurance policy in your favor. As a compromise, buy a cut Christmas tree right away, fireproof it quickly as outlined in last week's column, then use that tree indoors for the holidays. This way, the holiday spirit will be with you into the new year and you won't risk losing the balled tree over the winter.
Here is the scenario for the balled tree:
First, move the tub precisely where you want the tree displayed for the holidays. Put an old rubber tire in the tub for holding purposes. When the tree arrives, have the crew place it over the tire in the tub.
From then on, water the rootball every day the tree is out of the ground. Don't skip a day. In most cases, you'll use a quart of lukewarm water every day. Use a watering can with a long gooseneck spout and water the rootball slowly so the water is absorbed by the roots and doesn't flow into the tub; the slower you water, the better for the tree. Most balled trees are losing about a quart of fluid each day, so your daily watering merely replaces the water lost by the roots.
Apart from this, up to the day that you decorate the tree outdoors, spray the needles every day. For this, add a gallon of water to your hand-pump sprayer, then an ounce or two of a "surfactant" that you may find on the shelf at the garden shop. If not, call Cornell Chemical (301-636-2400) for purchase and delivery of the surfactant. The surfactant (many brands) reduces the surface tension of water, thereby producing a "film of water" on the needles when you spray. Water will be taken up as long as needles stay wet. Repeat spraying will benefit the tree, but stop spraying the day you install the lights and decorations. Be sure to check that the extension cord is for outdoor use.
If you must bring the tree indoors, it cannot stay in the house beyond six days. There's no getting around this commandment if you want a live tree next spring. With this timetable in mind, move the tree indoors on Dec. 23 and outdoors on the 29th. Meanwhile, when the tree is delivered, set up the tub (and tire) in the enclosed garage because the tree must pass through a "transition cycle" before being moved indoors. Water the rootball with a quart of lukewarm water every day, also spraying the needles with the surfactant mixture previously mentioned. Next week's column will update the care schedule over the holidays if the tree is brought into the house.
Next, some lawns will be overseeded this weekend or in the coming week. For overseeding, here are the settings for the rotary Cyclone or Spyker spreader:
For bluegrass, use 1 pound for every 1,000 square feet; the spreader setting is 3.
For fine fescue, use 2 pounds for the same area at setting 6.
For tall fescue, use 3 pounds and a spreader setting of 6 1/2.
For perennial rye, use 3 pounds and a 6 1/2 spreader setting.
If you are overseeding because the grass is thin and sparse, apply seed and let the winter heaving and thawing of the soil position the seed for germination come mid-March. If you have bare spots, go over the area twice with the spreader, then scratch the seed into the top quarter-inch of soil; if you scratch, you won't have to cover the seed with the peat humus filtered through your hands.
On lawns sparsely or not fertilized this fall, consider a dormant application of Milorganite anytime over the next few weeks. Feeding with 10 pounds per thousand square feet, use rotary Cyclone/Spyker setting 6 1/4; use setting 9 to fertilize at the 20-pound rate. Milorganite will release its organic nutrients to the lawn commencing in early April.
On the negative side, if your lawn has discolored to a pale green this fall, you're facing an early spring application of a fungicide to stop the disease. While many diseases are possible, the most likely is leaf spot. Come mid-March, we'll focus on the symptoms and cures.
In your ongoing holiday preparations, here are some last-minute reminders: No matter what kind of tree you're using for Christmas, buy a second cut tree (it can look downright yucky) to use for making boughs and decorations. Prune the branches when you arrive home, hammer the branch ends to mash the tissue, then insert the ends in the fire-retarding solution (check last week's column for the recipe). Next day, remove the branches and use them for yuletide displays.
Looking for a treat for the youngsters in your family? Buy a container with a Norfolk Island pine, add a string of miniature white lights and you have an instant Christmas tree that will brighten their lives. Surround the container with aluminum foil and place the tree on a sturdy table in their room. Look for care instructions when you buy the tree.
Gaudy tree decorations are no longer in vogue. The trend is to simple ornaments that reflect the family's history and ethnic heritage. Hand-me-down ornaments from grandparents are invaluable and should be given prominent display, likewise craft decorations that you may have accumulated over the years. If children make their own ornaments at school, make sure they're hung for all to see. Preschool children won't be neglected if a parent spends time helping the tot "create" a tree ornament.
Make a swag of pine branches and wire it to the outside of the stair railing, accenting the swag at vital points with dried hydrangea blossoms. Cut the blossoms for the display from the tips of the hydrangea canes, then seal the canes with a lighted wooden match. This will stop bleeding of the canes.
Do you have an old Christmas wreath that's seen better times or a grapevine wreath that's never been used for Christmas decorating? Are you asking yourself how to camouflage the old wreath? If you have that hydrangea, cut the dried blossoms and affix them in place around the wreath with florists' wire, adding a contrasting color ribbon for accent. Even the family won't know the difference.
Which room lacks the holiday spirit the most? Turn it around by using short branches from the second Christmas tree, taping them over the corners of the window. Install branches across the top of the window and down the sides, within inches of the bottom windowsill. If you use masking tape, no paint will come off. A lighted electric candle on the sill (check the store for sill holders) completes the holiday picture.
If you don't have a fireplace mantle to show off your creativity, create something on top of the hutch or bookcase or good piece of furniture. Line part of the top with a blotter so nothing mars the furniture, then place cut branches there, followed by fresh fruits (orange, melon, apple, pear, pineapple) interspersed among the needled branches. A handful of holiday nuts around the branches is the final accent for your yuletide display. Jack Eden hosts "Over the Garden Fence" Sundays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on WTOP Radio (1500 AM).