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Garden Plot: Holiday gifts, December advice

Friday - 12/7/2012, 1:24pm  ET

Mike McGrath,

The ultimate horticultural holiday gift

WASHINGTON - Tickets to the famed Philadelphia Flower Show in March always make great holiday gifts. And a relatively new addition to the Show is the twice a day, separately ticketed, "Garden Tea." It's proven to be sell-out-popular. This year, the Flower Show has combined the two in a unique membership offer that makes an outstanding gift.

Purchase a household membership in the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society (the presenters of the Philadelphia Flower Show for the past 180 years or so) and, as always, you'll get free tickets to the Philadelphia Flower Show Plus, this year, to celebrate the theme of "Brilliant" a tribute to the over-the-top horticultural side of Great Britain, you'll also get a tin of specially blended Flower Show tea.

A household membership that includes four tickets, the tea and a whole slew of extra stuff, costs $105. Four tickets at the door would cost you $128. Do the merry math. To check it out, follow this link.

Oh, and PHS members also get six months of the PHS magazine; use of the exclusive Member's Lounge at the Show (free refreshments and a nice place to sit down!); discounts at the Flower Show shopping area, Philly restaurants and botanic gardens nationwide…. And it's just an Amtrak ticket away! Oh, and I'll give my annual Flower Show lecture on the Wednesday of the Show (March 6th) at 1 pm. Plan accordingly!

On the care and feeding of hollies

Karen in Poolesville, Md. tersely writes: "When is the best time to prune and feed holly trees?"

I replied that hollies don't require any pruning and that the best "food" for hollies is a thin mulch of peat moss covered with an inch of compost, which can be applied anytime.

Karen responded: "How about to shape them—mine are wild looking, and not shaped like a Christmas tree. And we have Holly-Tone—is that not the right food?"

American hollies do tend to have that Christmas tree-type shape, but most hollies don't. Gentle, constant and consistent pruning during the growing season is the best way to try and coax any holly into attaining the shape you desire. If it's been growing wild for years, give yourself a few years to reel it in.

And Holly-Tone is fine. Apply it in the spring and, like all granular fertilizers, cover it with some soil or compost to get the most benefit.

Keep your amaryllis cool and your poinsettias warm

‘Tis the season for holiday plant care tips!

  • Keep amaryllis bulbs in a warm spot until they sprout, then bright light until they bloom and then keep them in a cool place—about 60 degrees—to prolong the show.
  • Keep poinsettias warm at all times; they are tropical plants that despise a chill. Leave one in a cold car for an hour and it will join the Choir Invisible.
  • Repot rosemary Christmas trees into a container twice as large or they will join your chilled poinsettias.
  • Keep cut Christmas trees well-watered; if their stand runs out of moisture, green the new color your carpet will be.
  • Dig the planting holes now for truly live trees--before the soil freezes hard; give them lots of room all around and have manly men at the ready—those root balls weigh a ton.

"Sandy, your fireworks destroyed my old lawn last night…"

Margaret in Frederick, Md. writes: "Hurricane Sandy knocked over a number of trees on what had been a patchy, shady lawn of Fescue. The area is now more open, but the heavy machinery that removed the trees has created a big mess that'll need to be re-seeded. Our landscaper recommends seeding now, even though it would be a big gamble because he thinks it'll be an even bigger gamble in the spring. He doesn't guarantee anything either way. What would you advise?"

Ha! I advise that you keep that landscaper, Margaret! He might be the first I heard of who's that honest about the inevitable failure of spring seeding!

Now, the soil is going to have to be tilled, graded and leveled before you can do anything, and it is December whether you like it or not. So chill.


Then, your springtime choices are installing the sod of your choice or sprigs or plugs to grow a warm season grass like zoysia or Bermuda—increasingly popular choices as our D.C. area summers get hotter.

Otherwise, just cut whatever weeds appear, take your time preparing the soil well, and sow cool season seed in mid-August. A well-prepared surface is one of the most important factors for having a great looking lawn. I suspect that that level- headed landscaper of yours might agree.

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