After removing decorations, prepare your tree for the birds
After Christmas, your live cut tree can be moved outside and be redecorated for the birds. Anchor the tree in a bucket full of damp sand. Add strings of popcorn and cranberries. Apples, oranges, leftover bread and pine cones covered with peanut butter and dipped in birdseed can also be added. For best results, push the edible ornaments well into the tree so that they do not blow off as easily.
• Recycle Christmas tree branches (cut into 2- to 3-foot sections), swags, wreaths and other evergreen material as mulch for garden and perennial beds. You can also use these greens to put in containers for additional display time outside. It is best to avoid using flocked trees for this and to remove tinsel and other decorations before putting outside. Lightweight, open evergreen branches permit moisture to reach the soil but also insulate the roots and crowns of plants from the freeze-thaw-freeze cycle of Midwest winters.
• Inspect squash, potatoes, root crops and other vegetables and fruits you have in winter storage. Although conditions may have been ideal when you harvested and stored them in the fall, winter weather may have made it too cold or damp.
Vegetables stored in an unheated garage may freeze in very cold winter weather and should be moved to the basement and kept as cool as possible. Throw away or compost anything that has spoiled or has soft spots. The same goes for summer flower bulbs like dahlias and gladioli that you saved to plant next spring.
• Tim Johnson is director of horticulture at Chicago Botanic Garden, chicagobotanic.org.