HOLIDAY SAFETY AND OTHER DECEMBER GARDENING
By Dr. Leonard Perry
Extension Greenhouse and Nursery Crops Specialist
University of Vermont
December brings family and friends together
to celebrate the holidays. Make sure you have a safe
season by taking a few precautions before your guests
For starters, take care with holiday decorations,
especially if your guest list includes young children
or pets. Although poinsettias have proven not to be
poisonous, they may cause internal upset if ingested.
Contact with the sap may result in a skin rash. Other
Yuletide plants like holly and mistletoe do have toxic
properties, however, and consumption can lead to mild
to acute stomach and intestinal disorders, so place
these out of reach.
If you have a Christmas tree, anchor it
to something sturdy like the wall or moldings with screw
hooks and wire or fishing line to prevent disaster should
a frightened cat or curious child attempt to climb it.
Use a stand with a flat, broad base for extra stability.
Hang favorite ornaments and breakables near the top
of the tree along with dried flowers, pinecones, and
wood ornaments that dogs and toddlers might find appealing.
A fresh tree can drink up to a quart of
water a day--often more the first few days--so be sure
to keep the stand filled to prevent the tree from drying
out. Adding a tree preservative to the water will help.
Place your tree away from heat sources like fireplaces
and radiators, and make sure light cords aren't cracked
or frayed, a safety hazard.
If you ordered a floral centerpiece, or
received one from a thoughtful guest, add water as soon
as it arrives. The florist foam which holds the flowers
in place needs to be kept very wet or else it will draw
moisture from the flowers and hasten wilting.
Don't just feel the foam block. Check
the water level in the container, too. If possible,
submerge the container and foam block in a sink full
of water for an hour or so to get it thoroughly wet
if not already so. Then check the water level daily
and add water as needed.
If you receive cut flowers, use a sharp
knife to recut the stems to allow better water absorption.
Place the flowers into a container of 100-degree F water
for 30 minutes. This is particularly important for roses,
which may not open fully without this warm water treatment.
(The water won't stay at this temperature, of course,
but the initial boost of warm water will help the flowers
Arrange the flowers in a vase of cool
water with floral preservative. To extend the life of
the flowers add fresh water to the vase daily as needed
and change the water every three days, recutting the
stems as before. Place the arrangement in a cool spot
Outdoors, keep your walkways safe for
visitors by using kitty litter, sand, or environmentally
safe salt to melt ice and early season snows. Place
wooden teepees over shrubs and other foundation plantings
to prevent snow falling off the roof from crushing these
Going away for the holidays? If you can't
find a plant sitter, then check your local garden center
for an auto watering device, which will provide your
plants with water while you are away. These also are
available online and through mail order.
Other activities for December: plant a
windowsill herb garden; start a worm farm with your
kids to help turn kitchen scraps into compost; sign
up for the Vermont Extension Master Gardener training
course, which begins in February 2002 (802-656-9562
or e-mail: master.gardener@ uvm.edu).