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How-To Guide for Christmas Decorating

Ramsey Press 3/22/2004

 

How-To Guide for Christmas Decorating


Celebrating Christmas with a tree, wreaths, and special plants can make the season more enjoyable and meaningful for the whole family. Here are some ways to be sure that your decorating goes smoothly and quickly and the results are safe and long lasting.

Picking a Christmas Tree

.Picking a Christmas Tree Decide where you will put your tree for maximum enjoyment and minimum traffic or furniture moving. In a window it can also be seen from outside. Be sure to put it well away from heat ducts and in another room away from a fireplace you'll be using. Then measure the height of the ceiling and plan to get a tree one to two feet shorter to leave room for the stand and the top ornament. Also check your lease or with someone in authority for any rules of size or entry if you are putting a tree in an apartment, school, or office.

If possible, shop for your tree in the daytime so you can best see the shape and condition of your choices. Take some rope or stretch-hooks if you plan to put a large tree in the trunk or on top of a small car.

When cutting your own, plan to go early enough to get a good selection or postpone it until the next weekend if snow or mud get too deep for driving close to the trees. Be sure the tree farm will furnish saws or take your own.

When buying a live but pre-cut tree, hold each away from the others to study the shape. The branches tied up for shipping will fall even more when you get it home. Shake it or drop the trunk firmly to the ground to see how many needles fall. Some are to be expected, but a great many are a warning that the tree is already dry. Run your fingers over a branch and see if the tip is resilient enough to bend into a U if it is not frozen.

.fresh cut Ask the seller to make a fresh cut at the base of the trunk to open the water ducts that have healed over. Or make your own when you get home, removing at least an inch from the bottom to where the wood is creamy-white, not brown or yellow. This cut should be not quite flat so there will be water room underneath when it is in the stand.

Keeping Evergreens FreshTop of Page
Ask if the trees or your greenery have been treated with an anti-transpirant or anti-dessicant spray. If not, you can spray your own either in the field or outdoors at home. Sprays like Wiltpruf, Forevergreen, or special Christmas brands are available at garden stores and work by enveloping the branches and needles in an invisible plastic film that does not hurt the plant but slows down the water loss. Any leftover spray can be used in many ways in the yard and garden according to label directions.

Put the tree in a deep bucket of warm water, at least one gallon and as much as three, when you get it home and stand it in a cool place away from wind and sun until you are ready to bring it indoors.

Once a fresh-cut tree gets into a heated house, the sap will release with a wonderful fragrance. Spread newspapers and flat plastic garbage bags first, then spread the tree skirt after decorating.

Both before and after decorating, you need to check the water level in the tree stand daily. A tree can drink from a quart to a gallon of water every day. Some people add aspirin, sugar, bleach and such to the water both to feed the tree and kill bacteria, but it has not been proven that these are any more effective than just plenty of WATER. When a live tree stops drinking, it is time to take it down.

The Christmas Tree Stand Top of Page
Any stand for a live tree must hold water, and the more the better. Bolts hold the trunk in place and the ring on them must be large enough for the trunk of the tree you select. Too small a stand will make the tree top- heavy. If there is any doubt of steadiness, wire the tree near the top to nearby curtain rods or other immovable fixtures.Christmas Tree Stand

Wash the tree stand before each use with bleach water to remove any germs or bacteria.

The Christmas Tree Bag Top of Page
This is a fairly new item that you position around the tree base before decorating and spread to cover the carpet area to catch any falling needles. Then, after the holiday when the decorations are removed, the bag goes up around the tree for clean and efficient removal.Christmas Tree Bag

Balled Trees for Replanting Top of Page
Some people landscape their yards with trees from special Christmases, each child's first, their first in that house, etc. This is a wonderful way to celebrate, but it has some drawbacks that make it impractical for some people.

Balled Trees for Replanting 1. Such trees are relatively expensive and taking them indoors and then out again is not good for them.
2. The ball of roots takes up a great deal of space, and only smaller trees can stand transplanting, so you can't have a huge one.
3. The tree should be indoors for a minimum amount of time, a week at the very most.
4. The colder the weather and the warmer the house, the more risk to the life of the tree.

If you still want a replantable tree, here are some life insurance policies to follow:
  • Dig a very large saucer-shaped hole before the ground freezes and pile topsoil beside the hole or bring it into the garage in a wheelbarrow. Check for good drainage.
  • MARK THE HOLE so no one falls in and breaks a leg.
  • Be sure the species of tree you buy will grow in your climate. Ask a reliable nurseryman.
  • Keep the tree in a cool but not freezing place away from sun and wind until a few days before Christmas.
  • Keep the root ball damp but not soggy. Put it in a plastic bag or tub. Handle carefully so it won't crack and die.
  • Decorate sparsely with small lights that give off no heat and decorations that won't weigh down the branches.
  • Remove the tree first to a colder, sheltered area to minimize the shock. Then plant it as soon as you can. People have kept them in a garage until spring, but this is risky. Set the tree in the hole so that it is slightly higher than surrounding soil. Remove any ties or straps, pull back the burlap so it is below the soil line, and cover with the original top soil. Water as needed but do not flood. Mulch heavily around the tree to keep the soil from freezing and thawing.
  • Where winds are gusty, you may want to stake the tree for the first growing season.PLANTING DIAGRAM
    Artificial Trees
    Top of Page
    If you want an artificial tree you can pack away and use every year, there are some fine ones on the market that look quite real. Measure before you buy. Keep the box and directions.

    Flocking
    If you want a flocked tree, it is best done by experts. If you do it at home, do it outdoors and ALWAYS WEAR A MASK. Flocking does NOT prolong the life of the tree nor change its need for water. The glue in the flocking could make it look fresher longer.


    Make Decorating EasyTop of Page

    Make a party out of the tree trimming for the whole family, class, or office and enjoy. When buying lights, be sure the voltages are the same and bulbs can be exchanged. Keep at least one original box with all this information. Position tree and stand. Then plug in and check the wiring and the lights. Push each bulb gently until it is secure, never twist. Replace burned out bulbs to prevent strain on the rest. Never connect more than 50 large bulbs, 300 miniature ones. NEVER LEAVE A SOCKET OPEN AND EXPOSED. LIGHTS

    Then decorate the tree from the top down, starting with the lights and top, then the other ornaments, lastly the garlands and icicles. Use larger and heavier trims near the bottom, but above the lower tier of branches. Put the skirt on last.

    Other Safety PrecautionsTop of Page
    Put the plug or switch for lights where you can reach it easily. Also leave room between presents to get in to water. Never leave the lights on when you go away or go to bed. Why take a chance? Water daily and take the tree down before it is too dry to be safe. When putting lights around windows or outdoors, use clips and fasteners designed for such use. Don't risk puncturing wires with staples or thumb tacks.

    Recycle Your TreeTop of Page

    RECYCLE TREEReal Christmas trees are a crop, not a devastation of our forests. You can even cut one from your own evergreen tops and then train another limb as a leader. Many cities will grind trees and give you an equal quantity of mulch. It makes a fine light mulch for bulbs or perennials. Or use your own shredder, but shred it all. Don't burn your tree in the fireplace; they burn and spark too furiously.


    SCOTCH PINE, SPRUCE, FIR, BALSAM, WHITE PINE


    Still Trying to Pick a Christmas Tree? Consider This:

    Kind Color Needles Comments
    Scotch Pine Bright green, silver beneath Stiff 1-1/4" Stays fresh long time, natural casting of 3 yr. needles
    White Pine Blue green Soft 3-4"
    Full, good needle retention, branches less stiff

    Balsam Dark green Short , Round
    Most fragrant, 2 white lines on underside of needles
    Douglas Fir
    Vivid green- blueish green

    Flat, 1"

    Fullness depends on shearing

    Spruces

    Dark green- light blue tipped

    Shortest- stiff

    Poorer needle retention

    Christmas Plants

    PoinsettiasTop of Page
    POINSETTIASPoinsettias make an ideal gift. Select plants with green foliage all the way down to the soil line. Choose a plant with small green buttons at the center of the flowers. Those with little yellow flowers are further developed.

    Poinsettias don't like drafts and resent hot air as much as cold. Get them on your last stop before going home so they won't sit in the car too long. If outdoor temperatures are freezing, wrapping is essential.

    Put them where there is enough natural light to read fine print and cast a strong shadow for at least six hours a day.

    Water plants thoroughly--until the water seeps through the drain hole. If your plant is wrapped in foil, make a hole in that so it doesn't hold water. Always put a saucer underneath to protect your furniture and empty any water left after 20 minutes. Check plants daily and water only when the soil feels dry.


    Poinsettias can stay in the house until April and will remain beautiful for that long a time.

    Because they are without nutrients during the entire marketing process, it is a good idea to feed new plants within several days with any houseplant food. Repeat this about once a month. Your plant will gradually shed its leaves in a heated house. Either pull up the wrapping paper or insert evergreen branches into the soil if stems look too naked.

The Poinsettia Is Not PoisonTop of Page
You may read or hear that the poinsettia is poison. It isn't. Research at Ohio State University determined that the poinsettia is not harmful to either people or animals. No one has ever suffered poisoning from any part of the plant.

Holly berries, all parts of the Jerusalem cherry, poinsettia leaves, and mistletoe berries can cause vomiting, diarrhea, or abdominal pain if babies eat them, so be advised. But do not panic.

Plant Your Poinsettias Outdoors
Plant Your Poinsettias Outdoors

You can plant your poinsettia outdoors in spring after all danger of frost is past. If it has not been hardened, set the pot out for a few hours, lengthening the time each day for about a week until the plant adjusts to outdoor sun and temperatures. Plant in full sun either with the pot sunken into the soil for easier return indoors or directly in the ground.

In the Sunbelt, poinsettias will become large, beautiful shrubs that bloom for months, but if you get an unexpected freeze, COVER.

Where winters are cold, bring plants indoors before frost in the fall, again making the change gradual to minimize shock. Put them where no night lights shine, for they will form buds only in response to long hours of darkness. Any improved, well-drained soil will do. After color shows, household lights will not matter.

Try a Christmas Cactus for a ChangeTop of Page
The Christmas cactus is another favorite that is even easier to grow. These come in a wide range of colors. The satiny flowers are often bi-colored with a combination of white and a pastel.CHRISTMAS CACTUS

Christmas cacti are very hardy plants that will survive all sorts of abuse. But there may be some bud drop as the plants adjust to a new place. If this persists, check for too much or too little water or insufficient light.

You can also put this plant outdoors in the sun after it finishes blooming and frost is past. They need six weeks of short day treatment, starting in late September for Christmas bloom. After that it doesn't matter. Bring them into the light for their big show.

AZALEASAzaleas Are Always DelightfulTop of Page
Azaleas are available for Christmas even though their main season comes closer to spring. Florist azaleas are raised in greenhouses and are very potbound when they bloom, so the soil tends to dry rapidly. Check them daily and water them generously. Then water again after 15 minutes. But like poinsettias, they should not stand in water for very long.

Azaleas will take a little less light, about four hours a day of bright sunlight. A northern window is fine. Southern or eastern ones should have sheer curtains to filter some of the sunrays.

Cyclamen Are Lovely but LimitedCYCLAMEN
Cyclamen is not adapted to home temperatures or humidity. So enjoy the exquisite orchid-like flowers as long as they last and don't feel guilty when they die. Water from the bottom because this has a large, concave corm that may hold water from the top and rot. Keep it in the coolest, brightest place you have.

Chrysanthemums Are Old FaithfulsCHRYSANTHEMUMSTop of Page
Blooming mums are available in many colors all year round and will last longer with less care than most flowering plants. Choose blooms with petals open at the outside but still closed in the center. Care for them much like the poinsettia, giving at least four hours of filtered light but not direct sunlight. This one will move easily from room to room as the occasion demands. After they bloom, cut the dead flowers off along with half to one third of the foliage. If several plants are crowded in a pot, separate them in the spring to sunny spots outdoors.

Other possibilities: Amaryllis, dwarf Alberta spruce, decorated mini-trees, hyacinths, and paperwhites should come with instructions. Read these before you buy and ask questions if you are not clear about care.

Christmas Decorating

Make and Hang a Holiday WelcomeTop of Page
Because evergreen foliage dries out so quickly in a heated house and is so flammable at best, use real foliage well away from lighted candles and some of the excellent artificial foliage near the fireplace. Also, treat the real foliage with an anti-transpirant spray as described for Christmas trees. Keep stems in water where possible; use otherwise with care. Fresh evergreens give that wonderful, piney fragrance to every room in the house.FRESH WREATH

Light the Advent WreathTop of Page
The Advent wreath with three purple candles and one pink one for the four Sundays before Christmas makes a good family preparation for Christmas day. It is best made with artificial evergreens or real ones in water since it must stay both fresh and safe so long. Light one candle the first week, then two, and so forth. Use this as a centerpiece or hang it above the table so it won't interfere with the food but is still on the spot. Light the candles during dinner and offer special prayers and praise during December. ADVENT WREATH

Door Decorations Set the MoodTop of Page
The wreath or swag on your door that says "Welcome, friends," and "Isn't it a lovely season," is fast becoming a year round decoration. And you can use the same one, with minor changes, for any season. You don't have to have many materials or great skills to make your entrance interesting.

Although early winter is not the time for drastic pruning, your yard can yield a rich array of material: various evergreens from a light trim, seed pods left in the flower or vegetable garden, berries from the trees and shrubs. If you don't have a yard, you can buy bundles of greens wherever Christmas trees are sold or even trim enough from the bottom of your tree to make a fine swag. Check your local florist, your friend's garden, or the ditches along country roads for further decoration.

Swags Are EasyTop of Page
A door swag is the easiest of the two to make. You need some florist wire, strong enough to hold the whole but flexible enough to wind around easily. Try about # 24. This comes in short lengths or in spools called paddle wire, is quite inexpensive, coated with green plastic so it's nearly invisible and rust resistant, and good to keep on hand.

A mixture of several kinds of evergreens makes a more interesting wreath or swag and less of a dent in your shrubbery. For a swag, just gather the branches into an oblong, asymmetrical diamond shape. Hold them near the top with most of the branches hanging down. Turn a few short ones upright to cover the stems of the others and tie them together firmly with wire. Leave enough to make a loop on the back for hanging.

Ribbons, Bows, and DecorationsTop of Page

You will probably also want a bow of some kind and florists have a wonderful array of weatherproof ribbon from plaids and velvets to the traditional wide red plastic. The florist will make the bow if you wish. To make your own buy at least three yards. A simple bow with hanging streamers is artistic or you can add more loops and fluff them out.


Once you have the basic outline, it takes only a few moments to add the decorations. Tighten the center of the bow with wire and fasten it to the joining of the evergreens. A circle of wire wound around near the base of a cone will work its way in as you tighten it; then insert the ends into the swag in the desired position. Or

RIBBONS, BOWS AND DECORATIONS
you can gather several cones or pods with wires of the desired length, attach them together and add this end to the base of the swag.

It may be more practical to hang your decoration beside the door than to add weight to what must swing in the wind every time someone comes or goes. A single nail is sufficient and winding the wire tightly around it is the best way to keep the swag or wreath from blowing away.

Wreaths Are Welcome Gifts Top of Page
For a wreath you need some kind of a frame. Florist and craft shops sell a wide variety of styrofoam, straw, and wire frames. You can bend a heavy coat hanger into shape or twist a length of chicken wire into a tube and then form the tube into a circle. Into some of the wire frames you can place damp sphagnum moss to keep stems extra fresh or even plant a ring of growing succulents for a wreath or centerpiece. A ribbon wound around a straw or grapevine frame is often enough for a simple wreath with just a bow and a few sprigs of dried flowers, fruits, or pods for the focal point.

To cover a frame for a traditional wreath, begin adding small bunches of evergreens or dried or fresh herbs and continue to wind the wire around the frame, adding a new bunch every few inches. Turn these to the sides or top as needed for a full and rounded effect. You will be amazed at the beauty of the different textures and colors in a mixed wreath.

WREATH MAKING MATERIALS

 

GarlandsTop of Page
Garlands are made much the same as a wreath except that instead of a circle frame, you attach the small bunches of evergreen to a length of sturdy rope. Do this in a cool garage, then leave the garland out in the cold until you are ready to hang it indoors. Add ribbon, bows, cones, berries, or other decorations from the hanging points or throughout the length.

Figure roughly on 6 yards of garland for a doorway, 3 yards above most fireplaces or for lampost or mailbox, 7 yards to surround a picture window. Always measure to be sure.

GARLAND

 

Outdoor DecorationsTop of Page
These also must be checked for safety of wiring and lights every year. Also, do not overextend your reach, your energy, or your budget. Go shopping after Christmas for bargains or get a little more every year if you wish. Put the decorations up early when you can pick good weather and then light them when the time comes. Put figurines in spots best protected from wind. Make your outdoor decorations visible from inside for double enjoyment.

Some neighborhoods celebrate Christmas Eve with luminaries along the streets and drives. These are easily and cheaply made with paper lunch bags, a bag of sand or kitty litter to anchor them, and a votive candle in the bottom of each bag. USE ONLY OUTDOORS. These will burn for several hours, sometimes all Christmas Eve, and go out on their own. But do not use in high wind or near flammable material like evergreens or dry grasses.

The Most Important PartTop of Page
Whatever decorating you do, do it with JOY. It is not what you do but how you do it that makes all the difference.

Getting Started

  • Pick the location ·Focal point
  • Tree
  • Stand
  • Anti-transpirant Spray
  • Lights ·Decorations ·Extra bulbs
  • Plants for home and gifts
  • ·Wrapped if freezing
  • Plant food
  • Gift cards
  • Evergreen boughs
  • Wire for wreaths
  • Candles for Advent wreath
  • Bows and ribbons
  • Bags, sand, and candles for
    luminaries


Some facts may vary by region. Please check with your local lawn and garden dealer if concerned about possible variations.

 


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