Even though many readers will be last-minute shopping this weekend, the final hours before Christmas could well be the happiest ones for the family. Everything depends on the next three-plus days as you try to create a yuletide spirit in your home or apartment. The jottings that follow are intended to make this holiday season one of the most memorable ever.
Make Bing Crosby's "White Christmas" come alive in your house now. Even if you've already bought a cut evergreen for the house, go out today and buy a second cut Christmas tree, but this one should be the worst and mangiest one on the lot (the kind that won't be sold anyway). But if you lost an evergreen to spider mites over the past summer, use this dead tree instead of buying one.
Put your cut Christmas tree in a tree stand in the garage or carport, then use a carpet knife to remove all needles from it; merely scraping the limbs will do the job.
Next, stop at the hardware or building supply store for a can or two of flat white spray paint. Back home, spray the trunk and limbs, probably with two coats to cover the woody surface throughout. Make sure everything is painted white, including the underside of all limbs. Now, move the tree indoors and decorate. Use a set or two of constant-lighting miniature white tree lights, without added decorations. A cluster of dried baby's breath can be tucked into a cavity of the tree for accent, perhaps some homemade cookies attached to limbs within reach of your smallest children. Remember, since the tree is dead, add no water to the tree stand. In a child's bedroom, this white Christmas tree is heaven sent.
If you are at a loss for ideas for the gardeners on your Christmas list, head for the nearby garden shop and bring home an electronic pH soil tester -- prices run $30 and less. No matter if the recipient is a novice or advanced gardener, whether they focus on indoor or outdoor gardening, the meter is a priority gift at any time of year, especially Christmas. Before New Year's, they will discover immediate uses for the meter to pinpoint problems with a host of indoor plants. You might consider investing in one yourself.
A second choice should be a grow-light assembly, complete with two fluorescent lamps and stand, with an automatic timer thrown in. Prices generally run about $75. Such a light will find immediate application for anyone who cherishes plants, especially people who lack a south-facing environment for growing violets, geraniums and the like. With grow lights operating 16 hours a day, violets and other plants will flower nonstop the year-round without attention. Come late winter, the lights will provide the perfect environment for starting flower and vegetable seeds indoors, giving you a head start on neighboring gardens. Again, consider a grow light for yourself.
Other memorable gifts for gardeners:
Telescoping pole tree pruners capable of cutting to heights of 25 and 30 feet.
Cyclone rotary lawn spreaders that with proper care will last a lifetime and yield professional results on the lawn. If you are considering canceling your lawn service and caring for the lawn yourself, the rotary Cyclone is invaluable.
Gasoline-powered weed trimmers to make landscaping almost fun. Catalogue stores still offer them for Christmas giving.
Compact leaf shredders, electrically powered, to make composting downright easy. Often discounted to about $90, the shredder is the perfect gift for the serious gardener on your list.
Self-contained, heavy-duty, plastic composting bins priced about $100 that permit quick and easy composting.
Grass-catchers for rotary lawn mowers, pruning shears or hand tools.
Reserve time for putting those finishing touches on your home's holiday decorations.
Make a quick-and-easy centerpiece display from the "wooden cone" popularized by Colonial Williamsburg. Wrap and tie small cut-up boxwood foliage or magnolia leaves to hide the wood stand. Heat up paraffin wax in a saucepan, then immerse selected fruit (apples, lemons or limes) momentarily in the wax to coat the skin. Impale the fruit the nails projecting out of the cone to fashion the centerpiece display. A mature pineapple is placed atop the wood stand as the symbolic welcome to your holiday table. Fruit will survive the entire holiday season without deteriorating.
If you saved pruned grape canes from last spring as suggested, immerse them briefly in hot water to soften the dried tissue, then remove them from the sink and work the softened canes into a circular wreath about 10 to 14 inches in diameter. Pussy willow branches from the spring are a good substitute. Tie canes firmly with florists' wire or soft cord, then insert sprigs of dried herbs, yarrow and baby's breath accordingly. Keep the display simple.
Make homemade potpourri over the holidays. To a saucepan on the stove, combine 2 cups of water, a tablespoon of whole cloves, one whole nutmeg and four cinnamon sticks broken into small parts. Let the solution simmer so the fragrance works its way throughout the house. When the solution vaporizes in an hour or so, mix a fresh batch and only fire up the stove when the last traces of the first potpourri have disappeared.
Even if you have already decorated your tree, indoors or out, you can still create the fallen-snow look if you have the time. Put two measuring cups of Ivory soap flakes in a large mixing bowl, then stir as you slowly add warm water. Continue adding water slowly until you have a thick pancake-style mixture. Now, use an inch-wide paintbrush to paint the mixture onto the tops and ends of branches. Even on balled evergreens, this solution won't harm needles or branches. Known as "flocking," this custom originated in Europe more than a century ago.
If you insist on moving the balled Christmas tree indoors for the holidays, remember the six-day schedule you should follow. Move the tree indoors tomorrow, together with the plastic tub and rubber tire containing the tree. Moisten the root ball every day with a quart of warm water. The tree should be moved outdoors next Saturday.
Our best wishes for a merry, happy and peaceful Christmas.
Jack Eden is the host of "Over the Garden Fence" Sundays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on WTOP Radio (1500 AM).