Decorate live trees with edible ornaments to feed 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 or tie it to a fence or tree. Put on strings of popcorn and cranberries. Apples, oranges, leftover breads and pine cones covered with peanut butter and then 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 readily.
Though the outdoor gardening season may be over, except for pruning and monitoring for animal damage, you can still garden inside by trying to grow herbs. Sow seeds of parsley, oregano, sage and dwarf basil in clay pots. Once they germinate, place them under grow lights and water when very dry. Fertilize the plants with a half-strength solution of a liquid fertilizer.
• Consider reusing your natural Christmas decorations by recycling Christmas tree branches (cut into 2- to 3-foot sections), swags, wreaths, and other evergreen material as mulch for garden and perennial beds. It is best to remove non-plant items, such as tinsel and wire, before placing in the garden. Lightweight, open evergreens permit moisture to reach the soil but also help insulate the roots and crowns of plants from the freeze-thaw-freeze cycle of Midwest winters. The greens can also be arranged in containers for winter interest.
• It is easier to notice animal damage in the garden when you see the tracks. With the lack of snow thus far this winter, it is a good idea to walk the garden once a week or so to monitor for animal damage, and install or adjust barriers as needed. Look for gnawed bark at the base of trees and shrubs.
Rabbits can cause considerable damage over the course of winter by feeding on shrubs. As snow piles up, they can reach higher and higher to eat. Chicken wire will work well to exclude rabbits. Hanging soap or hair in branches generally will not work as a deterrent for deer browsing. Use physical barriers such as wire or netting to protect plants from deer.
Yews and arborvitae are deer favorites and will likely be browsed in areas where deer are active. Repellents can be applied when temperatures are above 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Rain will wash off the repellents over time, so one application made in fall may not provide protection for the entire winter.
• Tim Johnson is director of horticulture at Chicago Botanic Garden, chicagobotanic.org.