With most holiday preparations complete, but for the inevitable last-minute shopping, it's time you enjoyed Christmas. In these last six days, anything is possible. If you haven't gotten into the Christmas spirit, catch up this weekend by putting your creative talents to work. Armed with evergreen boughs,. holly berries and florists' wire, anything is possible. Raid the budget for the basic supplies, then get to work.
Others have different work routines on tap. Some homeowners took delivery of a balled-and-burlapped Christmas tree a week ago. Ever since, the rootball should have been watered each day with a quart of lukewarm water applied gently so the water was absorbed by the roots. Continue this practice every day for as long as the tree stays out of the ground. Spray the needles with the combined water and surfactant mixture every day that the tree is not decorated with electric lights.
Let's examine the care programs for balled trees left outdoors and those to be moved into the house next Wednesday.
Trees remaining outdoors are at minimum risk. Whether or not it's decorated with lights and ornaments, the tree needs only daily watering of the rootball with a quart of lukewarm water to survive the Christmas season on your porch or patio; pour the water slowly over the burlapped rootball so it goes to the roots and doesn't spill inside the tub. Remember, the tree's survival hinges on the daily watering.
Trees decorated outdoors require no waiting period before planting. Technically, you could plant the tree anytime if you are going away and no one will be at home to water it daily. If this is the case, spread four or five inches of sharp sand at the base of the hole, followed by a 50-50 mix of sharp sand and peat humus. Water it to settle the soil. Measure the height of the rootball; when the hole and the rootball are the same size, move the tree into the hole. Cut all cords around the ball, including those around the tree trunk. Backfill with sharp sand and peat humus around the ball, covering it lightly on top. Apply two or three gallons of water to the tree, then two gallons every day thereafter for a week and stop watering. Mulch with shredded mulch or hardwood nuggets to a thickness of four to six inches the second week of January.
If you are moving the tree indoors, start planning now. The room should have bright, indirect light and be on the cool side; temperatures below 60 degrees are a must. Pick the spot for the tree, then shut down the heat source closest to the spot.
Since the tree cannot stay indoors more than six days without having all sorts of problems, we suggest you move the tree indoors next Wednesday. Outdoors, remove the tree from the tub and the tire, then clean the tub before moving it into the house. Return the rubber tire to the tub, then use two people to move the tree indoors and into the tub; shift the rootball to make sure the trunk is vertical.
Next, decorate the tree: miniature electric lights, balls, ornaments, the works. Every day, pour the quart of lukewarm water gently over the rootball to replace the water lost by the needles every 24-hour period.
Next week's column will detail the care program when the live tree is moved to the garage the week after Christmas.
If your pre-Christmas hours allow, consider some of the following yuletide treats:
Enjoy your own white Christmas indoors, even if you already have a cut Christmas tree. Buy a mangy tree ; height doesn't matter, so even the tallest tree with sparse branches is just fine. Back home, don a pair of work gloves for safety, then draw a carpet knife against each branch of the tree; the idea is to use the knife to remove all needles from the tree without cutting the branches. When you're through, the tree should be completely bare.
Decide where you want to display the tree. If the tree is fine, leave well enough alone. However, if you're interested in a table-top display, mark the trunk accordingly, then cut the trunk cleanly with a saw.
Next, buy one or two cans of flat white spray paint. Temporarily mount the tree in a tree stand, place the stand on sheets of newspaper on the garage floor and spray paint the tree white. Spray everything, covering every branch, limb and trunk with the white paint; you may have to give a second coat to some branches, but the paint dries so quickly that the second coat may be applied minutes later.
Decorate with simplicity. The smallest miniature lights are perfect, ideally clear white lamps; other lights are fine, but keep them of one color. Miniature balls accent the tree, especially where balls reflect the light from the lamps. The more simple the display, the more memorable will be your white Christmas.
If you wish to accent the tree without lights, buy a dozen or more clusters of dried baby's breath, maybe some white or beige dried wildflowers, too. Use florists' wire to mount these clusters on the tree, using them as accents on the tree rather than a mass display of dried flowers. Tie a few red velvet ribbons at the ends of some branches and you will have a masterpiece.
Incidentally, there is no fire hazard here since the tree is devoid of needles. It makes a marvelous children's tree in their bedroom.
Although overplanted in the Washington area, the dwarf Alberta spruce makes a nice outdoor specimen decorated for the holidays. If you buy the spruce, plant it now, then decorate sparsely with miniature white lights; one string is more than enough.
Remember to keep the cut Christmas tree immersed in the fire-retarding solution at all times. Check the tree stand every other day.
Last-minute gardeners' gift ideas: a rain gauge, soil thermometer to help with early planting of the vegetable garden, timer for hookup to the garden hose, a set of hand tools, heavy-duty work gloves, a squirrel-proof birdhouse, long-handle cultivator, garden calendar, and holiday plants.
Jack Eden hosts "Over the Garden Fence" Sundays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on WTOP Radio (1500 AM).