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December 24: Removing Snow from Evergreens
Question: My evergreens are covered with snow and ice. Should I knock off the snow so the branches don't break?
Answer: Evergreen boughs can break under the weight of heavy snow and ice, but use caution in removing it. Gently brush off accumulated snow to avoid damaging the limbs. If ice accumulation is involved, it's usually better to allow it to melt off naturally. Attempts to break off the ice often result in broken branches at the same time.
It's not too late to take preventive action. If you have narrow evergreens with multiple, upright shoots, such as arborvitae or some junipers, loosely tie the stems together with old nylon stockings or other soft cloths to prevent them from splitting open if weighted down by snow.
December 18: Pruning Evergreens
Question: Can I prune my evergreens now and use the trimmings for Christmas decorations?
Answer: You can give broadleaf evergreens (such as holly and boxwood) a light pruning right now. But try to limit your pruning to just removing the branch tips. Avoid cutting into old wood that has no green leaves emerging from it.
You can also harvest clippings from most needle-bearing evergreens, such as spruce, fir, yew, and cedar.
Pines (Pinus spp.) are exceptions, however. They form new buds only at growing tips, so pruning them in winter means cutting off next year's new shoots. Prune pines only early in the growing season while their new growth is soft and needles are not yet fully expanded.
That said, if you want to completely remove a lower branch or two, cut the branch off at the main trunk, and use the trimmings to create your holiday wreaths and garlands.
December 11: Starting New African Violets
Question: My friend has admired my African violet with speckled leaves and flowers. How can I start a new plant to share with her?
Answer: If your African violet has more than one shoot, you may be able to divide it to share with your friend. Carefully remove the plant from the pot and make certain that it has several main stems with roots. If so, take a sharp knife and slice between stems, keeping a clump of roots with each division. Pot up the divisions. Keep them moist and in filtered light for several weeks until new roots form.
It's also easy to start new plants from leaf cuttings. Cut off a healthy leaf , along with an inch or so of leaf stem. Insert the leaf stem in potting mix or in a glass of water. As soon as roots develop on the leaf cutting in water, repot it in potting soil. If you start a cutting in potting soil, wait until new leaves form to pot it up. Then be patient; it can take several months before your cutting grows large enough to bloom.
December 4: Keeping Poinsettias Looking Good
Question: What should I do to keep my poinsettia looking good through the holidays?
Answer: Give your poinsettia plenty of light to keep it going strong. Poinsettias do best in bright indirect light such as an east-facing window.
These holiday plants prefer normal room temperature. Keep them from getting too warm -- they age quickly above 80F. Poinsettias are also sensitive to cold. Keep them away from drafts, and wrap them up in plastic when transporting them outdoors if temperatures are below 50F.
Water when the potting soil feels dry to the touch, but before the plant wilts. Avoid allowing the plant to sit in water for more than 30 minutes, otherwise the roots will die and rot. Watch the decorative foil wraps or plastic pot covers that come with many poinsettias -- these wraps often trap excess water. Drain out the excess after watering or poke a hole in the cover and place the pot on a plate or saucer to catch the draining water.