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The Story Behind Your Christmas Wreath

Robin Sweetser gives us the background story behind the Christmas Wreath for the Old Farmer’s Almanac.

What Does a Wreath on Your Door Symbolize?

This time of year, Christmas wreaths are hung in every place imaginable—from doors and fences to lampposts and windows—even the front grille of the car! How did a round bit of greenery come to symbolize the holidays?

Wreaths are part of many ancient traditions dating back to the earliest civilizations. The circle is a symbol of immortality; throughout history, wreaths have been associated with life, rejuvenation, and renewal. Originally, wreaths were worn around the head, neck, or waist.

The Greeks awarded laurel wreaths to their triumphant athletes; in the Persian Empire they were worn on the head as a symbol of importance; and ancient Romans wore them like crowns. In Sweden, candles were incorporated in the wreaths to celebrate the return of light after the winter solstice. Nowadays we use them in a window or on a door as a sign of welcome during the holidays.

They can be used flat on a table for decoration or as an advent wreath, which also contains candles, one for each Sunday between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Yule Love This Wreath

Every year on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, my local library has a wreath-making workshop. The library supplies the greens and wire and you bring your own wreath form, gloves, clippers, and enthusiasm. All the wreaths that are made that day are beautiful and all are different. Luckily, there are no hard and fast rules for wreath-making. Whatever pleases you is a success!

Every wreath starts with a base of some sort; it can be wire, straw, vine, or wood. Stalks of woody herbs like rosemary, lemon verbena, artemisia, or summer savory can be wrapped into a circle to make a fragrant base. Gather small bunches of evergreens together and wire them to the base. Overlap the bunches to hide the stems. Tuck small bunches of herbs and other interesting greens into the base using more wire to hold them, if necessary. Using greens of different colors and textures will give your wreath its richness. Add cones, dried flowers, berries, and fruit for accents. Don’t forget the bow!

Herbs can add symbolic meaning to your wreath:

  • Rosemary for remembrance
  • Sage for good health
  • Thyme for bravery
  • Lavender for purity
  • Rue for virtue
  • Juniper for life and hope
  • Hawthorn berries for protection and joy

Throw in cedar for strength, holly for immortality, and pinecones for long life and prosperity.

Whatever your family traditions are, at its very core, a wreath celebrates the cyclical nature of life.

“A Season Of Shivers” Predicted For The U.S.

The Old Farmer’s Almanac predicts a cold winter for the 2021-2022 season.

Brrr! The 2022 Old Farmer’s Almanac comes with a winter warning: Prepare for a “Season of Shivers.” This winter will be punctuated by positively bone-chilling, below-average temperatures across most of the United States.

“This coming winter could well be one of the longest and coldest that we’ve seen in years,” says Janice Stillman, editor of The Old Farmer’s Almanac. For 230 years, the Almanac has been helping readers to prepare for winter’s worst with its 80 percent–accurate weather forecasts.

In some places, the super cold of the coming winter will also bring lots of snow. This extreme wintry mix is expected in areas of New England as well as throughout the Ohio Valley, in northern portions of the Deep South, and in southeast New Mexico.

Above-average snowfall is also in the forecast along a track from eastern Montana southward through the western halves of the Dakotas and into northeastern Colorado. While temperatures in this midcountry strip will be relatively normal, snowfall will be abundant, with several storms predicted throughout the winter.

Meanwhile, most western areas will remain relatively dry, with all but the Pacific Coast itself and portions of the Southwest experiencing the frigid cold predicted for much of the rest of the country.


How To Put Lights On A Christmas Tree Like A Pro

Emily VanSchmus takes the guess work out of adding lights to your Christmas tree for Better Homes & Gardens.

This handy guide will teach you how to hang lights on your Christmas tree. Get our editor-tested tips on how to light artificial Christmas trees and find how many strands you need to decorate your tree.

Are you stumped when it comes to how to artfully drape Christmas lights on a tree? These easy-to-follow tips will show you how to put lights on your Christmas tree, whether it’s a real tree (here’s how to pick the best one) or an artificial tree. We’ll help you create your best holiday tree yet, effortlessly and beautifully.

How to Hang Lights on a Fresh Christmas Tree

When hanging Christmas tree lights on a tree, you should plan on using 100 lights for every foot of your tree’s height. So for a six-foot tree, you’ll need about 600 lights. We’ll show you how to hang lights on a real Christmas tree—it just requires a little patience.

  1. Instead of wrapping the lights around the tree in a maypole style, mentally divide the tree into three triangular sections, from top to bottom, around the tree’s cone.
  2. Plug in the first string of lights, and nestle the last bulb on the string at the top of the tree next to the trunk. Weave the tree lights back and forth across the triangle, being careful not to cross the cord over itself. When you reach the end of the first string, plug in the next set and continue weaving the lights back and forth until you reach the bottom, connecting no more than 300 Christmas lights end to end. Repeat this procedure for the remaining triangles.
  3. Step back from the tree and look at it with your eyes crossed, or squint until the tree is blurry. Wherever you see dark holes on the tree, rearrange the lights as necessary to fill in. To remove the lights without tangling them, work in reverse.

Reasons to Opt for an Artificial Christmas Tree

There is good debate over real versus artificial Christmas trees. While some people find the piney, wintry scent of the branches puts them right in the holiday spirit, others find the real evergreens can create a mess. The fullness of a fresh cut tree is hard to replicate in an artificial tree, but one could complain about the regular waterings. Allergies can also prevent you from having a live tree, so if these reasons or others get in your way, perhaps choosing an artificial Christmas tree for your holiday decorating is in the cards for your household. Creating a magical glow of lights on an artificial tree isn’t difficult, but it demands patience. Below are three different ways to put lights on an artificial Christmas tree.

How to Hang Tree Lights on an Artificial Tree

Many artificial Christmas trees come in sections that open like umbrellas. If you use miniature tree lights ($8, Target), you can wrap them around the branches and leave them on permanently—just be sure to light each section separately! We like to use 100-light strands because they are easy to work with as you wrap the tree branches.

1. For Minimalist Lighting

This is a great technique to put lights on a sparse Christmas tree. Instead of using 100 lights per foot of tree, we’re using about 50 per foot. To maximize the impact of this technique, we like to use large lights like these globe string lights ($34, Overstock) or retro-inspired bubble lights.

  • Use about three boxes of 100-light strands ($14, Walmart) for a 6-foot tree and about five boxes for an 8-foot tree.
  • Begin at the bottom of the tree close to the trunk. Allowing some slack or leader cord in the first strand of lights, separate the cord near the first bulb so it forms a loop. Slip the loop over one of the branchlets or greens near the trunk, and wrap the cord a few times around the green to secure it.
  • Pull the string of Christmas lights taut to the tip of the branch, then work back toward the trunk, wrapping the cord over itself and the branch.
  • Separate the cord again when you reach the trunk, and slip the cord over a branchlet to secure it. Carry the cord over to the next branch, wrap it around a green near the trunk, and pull it out to the tip. Wrap the cord over itself and the branch as before.
  • Continue wrapping branches in this manner until you come to the end of the string. Plug in the next set, and keep going until you reach the point where the tree comes apart. Work any extra lights back along the branch rather than crossing the section. When you wrap the top section of the Christmas tree, don’t wrap the lights around as many branches so the tree will look evenly lit from top to bottom.

2. For Moderate Lighting

For a classic but bright look, we like to use LED lights like these warm clear LED mini Christmas lights ($13, Target). They don’t produce heat and are completely safe to decorate your tree.

  • Use six boxes of 100-light strands for a 6-foot Christmas tree and eight boxes for an 8-foot tree.
  • Follow the same procedure as for subdued lighting, but add dimension to your tree’s sparkle by looping the strings a couple of times around on each branch, getting some of the lights closer to the trunk. Work your way from the bottom of the tree to top.
  • Cover more tree in sparkle with fewer lights by working the string of lights under and over each branch. Follow this pattern all around the tree, working from the bottom to the top. It’s simple, but it makes a lot of difference by actually covering your tree in lights instead of lassoing it.

3. For Showcase Lighting

If you want the effect of a Rockefeller tree in your living room, you’ll need extra light. To make your tree really wow, double the number of lights to 200 per foot of tree. Here’s how to string lights on a Christmas tree that dazzles.

  • Use 12 boxes of 100-light strands for a 6-foot tree and 16 boxes for an 8-foot tree ($119, The Home Depot).
  • Wrap the cord around every green as you work back along the branch.
  • Try pairing different-size bulbs with different stringing techniques. We like to string larger lights on first using the weaving technique, then layer in the smaller LED lights closer to the trunk using the branch-wrapping technique. It covers your entire tree and shines bright for all to see.

4. For Lights You Can Control from Your Phone

If you’re the tech-savvy type who likes to control everything with an app, you’re in luck. Now, you can easily program your Christmas tree lights to display whatever colors and patterns you like, all from a simple app on your smartphone. Pick up a set of Twinkly multicolor LED lights ($130, Amazon) and use the lights to decorate your tree as normal—then, wow your family members by changing up your holiday display with a few taps on your phone screen. Twinkly also offers music-syncing lights ($18, Amazon) so you can program your tree to change colors in time to your favorite Christmas songs.

How To Hang Christmas Tree Lights Vertically

Horizontal is traditional, sure, but this small change in orientation makes a big difference in presentation. Instead of wrapping the lights around the tree from top to bottom, hang Christmas tree lights vertically.

Mentally divide the tree into three triangular sections. String lights by starting the string at the bottom of the tree and pulling it up to the top, then back down like a mountain. Continue to zigzag up and down the tree. Once you’ve wrapped the tree, tuck the strands farther in on the branches to make room for ornaments.

How to Hang Christmas Tree Lights Outdoors

When you’re looking to add a bit of seasonal cheer to your house or the trees and shrubs in your front yard, follow these guidelines for lighting outdoor areas.

  • If you use floodlights ($38, The Home Depot) to show off outdoor evergreens, use white, blue, or green lamps. Red, yellow, amber, and pink lamps will make the trees look a muddy brown.
  • Don’t try to hang strings of Christmas lights from the eaves with cup hooks—in a strong wind, the wires may swing loose. Instead, use plastic gutter clips ($4, Walmart) that hook onto the gutter and hold the wire tightly in place. Look for packages of gutter clips in crafts stores and hardware stores near the tree lights and supplies.
  • Be sure you have outdoor electrical sockets to plug into when you use outdoor Christmas lights. Don’t worry about hiding the electrical cords—just keep them organized neatly, and no one will notice them.

Tips and Considerations to Safely Hang Tree Lights

  • Christmas tree lights can either be end-to-end—aka string-to-string—or stacked. Before buying your tree lights, check the boxes to make sure they’re all compatible. By using stacked plugs, you can join more strands than you can with end-to-end plugs.
  • To maximize safety, never plug more than two extension cords together. Instead, buy them in the lengths you need, and make sure they can handle the wattage of the bulbs.
  • The wattages of all the lights you use should be the same. This prevents power surges while prolonging the life of the bulbs.
  • Plug in the lights before you remove them from the box so you can see if they work before you put them on the tree.
  • Consider using miniature clear (white) lights for your base lighting, then add strands of the new cool-burning large bulbs for color and variety. Alternatively, add sets of novelty lights, such as flicker-flames, flashing lights, bubble lights, or other shapes.




Holly’s big plant family includes hundreds of varieties that range from 70-foot-tall trees to petite shrubs less than a foot tall. Nearly all of these variations can be sorted into four basic groups: English holly (glossy, spiny foliage); American holly (similar to its English cousin, but with duller leaves); Chinese holly (large glossy, spineless varieties); and hybrid holly. In other words, there is probably a holly in this diverse plant group that suits your landscape.

Colorful Combinations

The diverse holly family includes trees and shrubs that come in a variety of forms: columnar, pyramidal, rounded, or weeping. Their foliage varies, too, ranging from large, spiny leaves to smooth, small leaves that resemble boxwood. Even holly’s berries come in a variety of hues that include red, pink, blue, orange, yellow, and white.

Holly provides year-round interest while serving as part of a hedge or perennial border, or in foundation plantings. Evergreen varieties take center stage in winter when they anchor leafless garden beds. Tall evergreen hollies are good for creating a dense hedge or screen. When used as barrier plants, holly varieties with spiny leaves are nearly impenetrable. No matter where you plant holly, if pollinated its colorful berries add splashes of winter color and food for birds.

Berry Production

Many holly plants will produce colorful fruit that remains in place for three to six months of the year, depending on the density of the wildlife population. Whether you want to showcase these colorful berries in the yard or use them to perk up holly branches in an arrangement, you need to have separate male and female plants near each other in the landscape.

Female plants depend upon the males for pollination in order to produce berries. Check plant tags carefully when purchasing holly to ensure you buy at least one male plant to pollinate 10 to 20 female cultivars. Choosing a male and female of the same variety helps make sure the plants bloom at the same time—a key factor if you expect bees and other pollinators to work their magic. Be careful about the resulting berries; if eaten by humans or pets, gastrointestinal distress may follow.

Holly Care Must-Knows

The best time to plant holly is in the spring, with plenty of warm weather on the horizon. Read plant tags carefully when selecting a planting site for holly. Some hollies prefer full sun, while there are evergreen varieties that grow best in areas where they receive part shade in winter. Most varieties prefer moist, well-drained loamy soil that is slightly acidic. Winterberry, on the other hand, grows well in boggy soil. This plant appreciates a moderate amount of water; usually rain will do the trick. Provide supplemental waterings on a weekly basis during times of drought. Fertilize in spring and fall to keep plants at their best.

Holly shrubs don’t typically require pruning unless they become unwieldy or you want to create a hedge or geometric shape. On the question of whether or not (and when) to prune, the holly family is so diverse that it’s impossible to give one answer that will work for all varieties. In general, wait until dormancy for most hollies. Pruning in late fall or early winter means you can use the clippings in holiday arrangements or wreaths. On the other hand, if you prune in late winter you can enjoy seeing the berries outside. Either way, the trade-off is you’ll be removing old wood required for blooming—and therefore future berries. There is no single right answer. Just don’t prune in late summer when the plant will put out new growth that will die when frosts arrive. Worth noting: Late spring is a good time to prune holly bushes into hedges.

Everything You Should Know About The History Of Thanksgiving

Emily VanSchmus for Better Homes & Gardens on the History of Thanksgiving.

Each November we gather with our families and chow down on roasted turkey, green bean casserole, and cranberry sauce. It’s a decades-long American tradition with a complicated and controversial past, but there are a few things everyone should know about the holiday—such as why we eat pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving dinner. And while you might have learned that it began with the landing of the Mayflower, we actually have Abraham Lincoln to thank for making Thanksgiving a holiday.

While this year we may still be celebrating turkey day while wearing Thanksgiving-theme face masks and scaling down our traditional Thanksgiving menu, there’s still plenty to be thankful for. Brush up on the history of the holiday and quiz your family members on a few fun Thanksgiving trivia facts as you spend the day together.

When Is Thanksgiving 2021?

The actual date of Thanksgiving changes every year because it’s celebrated on the fourth Thursday in November. This year, Thanksgiving is Thursday, November 25, 2021.

The History of Thanksgiving

It’s a common misconception that the first Thanksgiving was held the same year that the colonists came to America, but history tells us that’s not the case. The Mayflower arrived at Cape Cod on November 11, 1620. After a long and difficult year (which included deathly illness and conflict between the colonists and the Indigenous people), the Plymouth colony experienced its first successful harvest in the fall of 1621. The first Thanksgiving in 1621 was a three-day-long feast shared by the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag tribe to celebrate that harvest. They ate duck and deer meat roasted over a fire, corn ground into porridge, seafood, cabbage, and squash. The event included activities such as ball games, target shooting, singing, and dancing.

Everything we know about the first Thanksgiving comes from the only written account of this first meal, which was a journal written by William Bradford in 1651. According to his accounts, Turkey, cranberry sauce, and mashed potatoes were not included on the menu.

Many well-known people attended the first Thanksgiving celebration, including Wampanoag leader Massasoit, Squanto (a Native American of the Patuxet tribe who taught the Pilgrims to plant native crops), Governor William Bradford, Captain Myles Standish, and religious leader William Brewster.

For more than 100 years, American settlers celebrated Turkey Day informally. An official Thanksgiving Day occurred in 1777, when George Washington declared December 18th a day for “solemn thanksgiving and praise.” It wasn’t until the 19th century, however, that the modern Thanksgiving holiday took shape. Following a 36-year letter-writing campaign by magazine editor Sarah Hale, Abraham Lincoln finally made Thanksgiving Day a national holiday in 1863.

The only glitch in Thanksgiving celebrations occurred in 1939 when President Franklin Roosevelt changed the holiday from the last Thursday in November to the next-to-last Thursday to extend the Christmas shopping season. After public outrage, he signed legislation in 1941 to change it back. Since then, we’ve carved the turkey and devoured green bean casserole on the fourth Thursday of each November.


10 Popular Plants For Winter Landscapes

Here’s some good advice from David Beaulieu on best plants for winter landscape for The Spruce.

Ideas for Turning Humdrum Yards Into Winter Scenes Worth Painting

What makes a plant popular for winter landscapes in the snowy regions of the globe? Are conifers the sole contestants? Which landscaping plants are automatically disqualified? Which shrubs are best for attracting wild birds? Answering such questions should help generate landscaping ideas for dealing with that Scrooge of the seasons, horticulturally speaking: winter. Our goal is to turn a drab yard into a winter scene worth painting—for that matter, worth looking at while you’re snow shoveling.

While evergreen shrubs (including shrubs with golden foliage) and conifer trees undeniably add visual interest to winter landscapes, so do many other plants, such as red osier dogwoods. About the only plants that are disqualified right at the outset are those that lack any appreciable height: no matter how pretty a plant may be, it will add no visual interest to the winter landscape if it lies buried all winter, dwarfed by a blanket of snow. Based on this premise, let’s explore ideas to enhance the winter landscape. And let’s keep in mind that many landscaping enthusiasts are also bird watchers; so that a plant’s ability to attract wild birds will be a consideration.


Characteristics to Look For

A winning plant for winter landscapes will have one or more of the following characteristics:

  • Contains colorful berries that attract birds for bird watching
  • Readily catches snow in its branches
  • Exhibits a delicate structure
  • Is clad in a bark that is colorful or that has an unusual texture
  • Bears evergreen foliage
  • Has an interesting branching pattern

Let’s look at some popular plants exhibiting these characteristics. Conifers take a back seat; their value to winter landscapes goes without saying, so we’re limiting their representation to two entries here. The following is a list of popular plants for adding visual interest in winter.

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  • Christmas Holly Shrubs

    • Evergreen holly is popular due to its striking, year-round foliage and bright berries that attract many bird species. Sprigs of cut holly have long been used in winter holiday decorations. Many evergreen hollies are not hardy enough for far Northern climes, but two of the hardier varieties are:

      • China holly (Ilex meserveae): This is a rounded holly, 8′ high by 8′ wide, and it is also drought tolerant.
      • Compact inkberry holly (Ilex glabra ‘Compacta’): This plant has dark green foliage that resembles that of boxwood shrubs. Its berry is black, not the usual red that we associate with hollies. It reaches a height of 4′ to 8′; its width is a bit less than that. You can also grow the similar Ilex glabra ‘Densa’.


02of 10

Red Osier Dogwood (Cornus sericea ‘Allemans’)

Red osier dogwood (Cornus sericea ‘Allemans’) is another extremely hardy plant (zones 3 to 8). The May flowering of red osier dogwoods yields white blooms that are followed by white fruit. But red osier dogwood makes this list because of its bark, which ranges in color from red to burgundy. Reaching a height of 6′ to 10′, the spread of red osier dogwoods is 5′ to 10′. A patch of fiery red osier dogwood against a backdrop of pristine snow makes for an unforgettable winter scene.

03of 10

Plume Grass (Erianthus ravennae)

When planning the winter landscape, don’t forget to include at least one tall perennial grass. An ornamental grass with a stately, thin shaft and fluffy coiffure exhibits such a delicate structure that it will doubtless lend a touch of charm to any winter landscape, however, barren otherwise. Plume grass (Erianthus ravennae), which can grow to be as tall as 11 feet (by about 4 feet wide), is hardy as far north as zone 4 (for those of you in hotter climates, it is listed for as high as zone 9).

04of 10

Bayberry (Myrica pensylvanica)

Bayberry (Myrica pensylvanica) is a shrub with a spreading habit (4′ to 6′ X 4′ to 6′), grown in zones 2 to 8. It’s glossy, aromatic foliage complements its waxy, gray fruit. In fact, these unusual berries are widely used to scent candles—if you can get to the berries before the birds do, that is. It is also a drought-tolerant shrub. The birds may like bayberry, but the deer don’t, as it’s one of the deer-resistant plants.

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Cranberry bush Viburnum (Viburnum trilobum ‘Compactum’)

Compact American cranberry bush viburnum (Viburnum trilobum ‘Compactum’) yields masses of red berries that serve as a source of food for birds on the winter landscape. A rounded shrub, it bears white flowers in May and June that are followed by red fruit. As a bonus, the shrub offers foliage ranging from red to purple in fall. American cranberry bush viburnum is hardy to zone 2. It grows 4′ to 5′ high, with a spread of 3′ to 4′.

06of 10

Winterberry holly (Ilex verticillata)

Winterberry holly (Ilex verticillata) is a deciduous holly bush indigenous to wetlands in the eastern half of Canada and the U.S. As stated above, usefulness for attracting wild birds in winter is one of the criteria considered for this list, and the fruit of winterberry will certainly attract birds to your property. Far from being a drawback, its deciduous nature is actually a benefit for the winter landscape. Why would you want leaves to be in the way when you have such gorgeous berries to behold?

A dioecious shrub (as are bayberry and evergreen holly), to ensure fruit production it is best to plant several shrubs together, to increase your chances of finding a male plant to accompany the females.

07of 10

Yew Shrubs (Taxus spp.)

Yews are renowned for being plants in our Christmas traditions. These conifers bear evergreen needles and bright red berries. But keep children away from both the foliage and the berries of these plants; the seeds and needles are quite toxic.

08of 10

Canadian Hemlocks (Tsuga canadenesis)

Are you surprised to see eastern hemlock trees (Tsuga canadenesis) included in a list of landscaping plants? You may think of them first and foremost as tall trees (60′ or more) that you encounter out in the woods. But plant developers have bred cultivars that are more shrub-like, which are well-suited for use in hedges, etc. Shear them to keep them at the desired height. Whether used in hedges or as specimens, these evergreen conifers will help give your winter landscape some much-needed visual interest.

09of 10

Viking black chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa ‘Viking’)

Like winterberry holly, Viking black chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa ‘Viking’) tolerates poorly-drained soils. Like American cranberrybush viburnum and barberry, this shrub provides foliage that ranges from red to purple in fall, making it a two-season standout. Viking black chokeberry is hardy to zone 3. As with all the berries mentioned in this article, chokeberry berries serve as emergency food for wild birds. They’re not the birds’ first choice—they are astringent or otherwise unpalatable, which is why they stick around so long—but when the birds get desperate, these plants are their salvation. Its white flowers in May yield to purplish-black berry clusters. It grows to a height of 3′ to 5′, with a spread of 3′ to 5′.

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Birch Trees (Betula spp.)

Three varieties of birch trees lend considerable interest to the winter landscape, two of them (the second and third entries below) because of their bark.

  • Young’s weeping birch (Betula pendula ‘Youngii’)
  • Paper birch (Betula papyrifera)
  • Yellow birch (Betula alleghaniensis)



Ever wonder what Indian Summer was all about?  The Editors of The Old Farmer’s Almanac update on the origin of this term.

In the fall, it seems that almost any warm day is referred to as an “Indian summer.” What is an Indian summer and where did the term come from? Find out…


You may hear the term used to refer to any period of unseasonably warm weather in autumn, but traditionally, “Indian summer” referred to something more specific. Here are the criteria for a true Indian summer:

  • As well as being warm, the atmosphere during Indian summer is hazy or smoky, there is no wind, the barometer is standing high, and the nights are clear and chilly.
  • A moving, cool, shallow polar air mass is converting into a deep, warm, stagnant anticyclone (high pressure) system, which has the effect of causing the haze and large swing in temperature between day and night.
  • The time of occurrence is important: The warm days must follow a spell of cold weather or a good hard frost, but also be before first snowfall.
  • The conditions described above also must occur between St. Martin’s Day (November 11) and November 20. For over 200 years, The Old Farmer’s Almanachas adhered to the saying, “If All Saints’ (November 1) brings out winter, St. Martin’s brings out Indian summer.”

We rather enjoy this description written by Sandy Griswold for the Omaha Sunday World-Herald in November 1922:

I am enabled to say, however, that the characteristics of the season, when it appears in all its glory, are a mild and genial temperature, gentle southwestern breezes, unusual brightness of the sun, extreme brilliancy of the moon, a clear, blue sky; sometimes half hidden by a veil of gray haze; daybreaks redder than the splotch on the blackbird’s wing, and sunsets laden with golden fleeces, the wooded valleys aglow with the fires of richly tinted leaves, still clinging to the listless limbs, or lying where they have fallen….



In parts of Europe, a similar phenomenon is known as an “Old Wives’ Summer” or “St. Martin’s Summer,” but how did the term “Indian summer” come to be? There are many theories, but none is confirmed.

Some say the term comes from the Algonquian people located in what is now the northeastern United States, who believed that the condition was caused by a warm wind sent from the court of their southwestern god, Cautantowwit (“great spirit”)


Similarly, another origin states that Native Americans would routinely use this brief period of warm fall weather to gather a final round of supplies before winter’s hold set in. November is the time to get one’s last harvest in before winter truly shows its head, so a short period of warm weather would be of note around this time.

Yet another claim involves European settlers in New England. Each year, they would welcome the arrival of cold, wintry weather in late October when they could leave their stockades unarmed. But then came a time when it would suddenly turn warm again, and the Native Americans would decide to have one more go at the settlers. “Indian summer,” the settlers called it.




Why Are Leaves Changing Color So Late This Fall? Experts Explain Why Trees Are Still Green

Leanne Potts explains why the leaves are changing so late this Fall season for Better Homes & Gardens.

Warmer temperatures and extreme weather are delaying and diminishing the reds, golds, and oranges of autumn.

You’re not imagining it. Trees have been acting like it’s not fall yet. The red, orange, and gold hues that light up forests and our yards in autumn are showing up later than usual across the nation this year. Peak color is a week behind in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, trees are staying greener longer across New York, and it’s still unseasonably green in Tennessee’s Smoky Mountains. The famed aspens of the Colorado Rockies turned gold a week to 10 days later than usual this year. The reason? Climate change, say experts. And it’s not a new phenomenon. Warmer air temperatures and an increase in extreme weather are making fall leaf season arrive later across the nation each year, and last for a shorter duration.

“Fall’s changing colors have been delayed up to four days per decade in North American forests since the early 1980s,” says Andy Finton, a forest ecologist who is the landscape conservation director with The Nature Conservancy in Boston. This year has been particularly pronounced due to a long hot summer in much of the country, followed by an unusually warm fall.

The disruption in fall color is happening in several ways: Summer droughts are making leaves turn brown and fall off before they can take on those desirable shades of red, orange, and yellow. Hurricanes and their rainy, windy remnants strip the leaves off the trees entirely. And unseasonably warm weather keeps the trees from knowing when it’s time to trade their green leaves for fall colors. “This is a climate-driven phenomenon,” Finton says. “We’re seeing trees track with the changes that we’re seeing in the weather.”

Finton says as the average temperature in the United States has risen over the last two generations (it’s more than 3 degrees higher than it was in 1970), fall color has been appearing progressively later. As a result, peak leaf season now arrives in some areas more than two weeks later than it did in the 1980s. “It’s never been easy to predict peak leaf season, but climate change is making it harder,” Finton says.

Peak leaf season usually occurs in mid- to late-October for much of the Eastern United States, and in mid- to late-September in the Rocky Mountain West. This year it was later in most places in the United States. Finton says to expect the trend for later falls to continue in the future. “Most studies show that fall color change will continue to move later and later.”

What makes leaves change color later?

To understand why warmer weather is bad for fall color, you must understand how nature paints a forest in autumnal hues. Shorter days and cooler air temperatures cue trees to change their leaves from green to red or gold. They’re shutting down their food-making operation (photosynthesis) for the season and preparing to go dormant for the winter. If the air stays warmer longer, the color change will be delayed.

Heather Alexander, associate professor of forest ecology at Auburn University, agrees that late fall leaves are a sign of climate change. “Changing temperature is something that we’re seeing, obviously, and it’s getting warmer on average across the globe,” Alexander says. “The trees are sensing this.”

It doesn’t take much to throw the leaf change cycle off-kilter, Alexander says, because trees are super sensitive to air temperature. She says there’s a three-day delay in leaf color change for each 1.8-degree increase in air temperature. That’s why the warm fall weather that’s affecting much of the nation right now has trees staying green and leaf peepers feeling disappointed.

It’s not just abnormal fall weather disrupting the trees’ leaf cycle. Summers of extreme heat and drought are also stressing trees, which delays and diminishes fall color. In Washington, a summer of record-breaking heat and a 51-day drought made many leaves fall off the trees early, before they could change colors. The leaves that remain have a duller color due to environmental stress.

Too much rain can disrupt fall color, too. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation blamed a summer of unrelenting rain (thank you, Hurricane Ida) for the late fall foliage there. The storm pulled down many leaves too early, so the remaining leaves on the trees had to work overtime doing photosynthesis to feed the tree. That means they stayed green longer, and that there won’t be as many leaves to peep at when they do turn color.

Colorful trees equal a healthy forest.

Fall leaves aren’t just pretty to look at. They’re also an important indicator of a forest’s health, Finton says. Those vivid fall colors are a sign that trees are getting the rainfall and temperature they need to thrive. Finton sees later, paler fall leaves as an omen.

“It’s a challenge for forests to keep their resilience and vigor in the context of climate change,” Finton says. “But there’s a hopeful message. Forests have a lot of inherent resilience. They can adapt. If we’re successful at protecting and conserving large, intact forests, we can help them cope with climate change.”


What Is Garden Lime And How To Use It To Help Your Plants Thrive

Megan Hughes on garden lime and how it can help your plants for Better Homes & Gardens.

If you’ve got acidic soil, this inexpensive crushed rock product is your friend. Here’s what you need to know to make the most of it.

In an ideal world, all soil would be perfect for growing every kind of plant. But garden soil often needs to be adjusted, depending on what you want to grow, and garden lime is a common amendment that can give your plants a boost. However, lime isn’t something to mix into your soil on a whim or based on the promises on the package at the garden store. Lime actually changes the chemistry of the soil in ways that can help certain plants grow better, but could harm other plants. Here’s what you need to know about using garden lime to ensure all your plants thrive.

What Is Garden Lime?

There are different types of lime, and not all are meant for landscaping purposes. Lime intended for garden use is labeled as “garden lime” or “dolomitic lime.” Made from ground-up rock, limestone, or dolomite, lime is high in calcium. Dolomitic lime differs from garden lime in that it contains magnesium, in addition to calcium. Lime makes soils less acidic, raising the pH level.

Does My Soil Need Lime?

The short answer is maybe. It all depends on the existing pH of your soil and the kinds of plants you want to grow. Most veggies, fruits, and ornamental plants thrive in soil that has a pH level between 5.5 and 6.5. If your soil’s pH is above or below that range, your plants likely won’t grow as well, no matter how much fertilizer you add, how diligent you are about watering, or any other way you try to help the plant. You may also want to adjust soil pH when growing bigleaf hydrangeas, which have blooms that can turn pink, purple, or blue depending on pH.

Soil with a pH of 5.5 or below is considered acidic. These are the soils that can benefit from garden lime. As the lime raises the soil’s pH level, plant roots are better able to absorb nutrients from the soil. But adding lime to soil with a pH of 6.5 or higher is not a good idea. Increasing the soil pH even more with lime will make important nutrients even harder for plants to get a hold of. Plants growing in soil that has a high pH are often stunted, have yellow leaves, and no fruit.

Test Your Soil pH

The best way to know if your soil will benefit from lime, and how much lime to add to your garden, is to get a soil test that reports the pH level of your soil. Generally, state Cooperative Extension offices provide comprehensive soil tests at reasonable prices. Follow their soil-sample collection directions to get the best results. You could also use a pH meter to get a ballpark number, but the advantage to going with a full soil test is then you’ll also get recommendations for the amounts of lime as well as other amendments and nutrients you may want to consider adding at the same time.

How Much Lime Should I Add?

Your soil test should tell you exactly how much (if any) lime to add to your soil. If the soil test indicates an acidic pH and reveals low magnesium levels, add dolomitic lime. If magnesium levels are in the acceptable range, add garden lime. Lime recommendations are often given in number of pounds of lime per 1,000 square feet, so you may want to do some measuring of the area you want to cover before you go shopping for lime.

When Is the Best Time to Add Lime?

If possible, add lime in the fall. It takes time to change the pH of soil so applying lime in fall takes advantage of the winter months prior to the next growing season. In addition, the freeze/thaw cycle helps mix lime into the soil. When adding lime to bare soil, such as a vegetable garden or new lawn, till it into the top 6 inches of soil. Use pelletized lime and a fertilizer spreader to add it to an established garden bed or a lawn. Water the garden or lawn well to move the lime into the soil.


7 Essential Leaf-Raking Tips to Make Your Fall Cleanup So Much Easier

Megan Hughes offers some tips to ease fall yard cleanup for Better Homes & Gardens.

This autumn chore is a breeze when you know how to do it right.

Trees and shrubs in all their brilliant fall finery are an amazing sight to behold. Those color-drenched leaves eventually make their way to the ground, where you may find them much less welcome. Raking leaves is at the top of most fall garden to-do lists, and it can be a rather labor-intensive and time-consuming chore. But dealing with fallen leaves doesn’t have to be a pain (sometimes literally). When you know how to rake properly, or even how to avoid raking altogether, you’ll have more time to enjoy a final bonfire of the season or one last backyard football game before the snow flies. Use these leaf-raking tips to make quick work of your fall cleanup.

1. Do you really need to rake?

Leaves have nutrients, which can be recycled into your soil. The problem arises when they’re piled too thick, which can smother your lawn and smaller garden plants. But how many is too many? University researchers developed guidelines to make it easy to know if you need to rake or not. If less than 50% of your lawn is blanketed with leaves, you don’t need to rake, but it’s recommended that you run your lawn mower over the leaves to shred them. More than 50% leaf coverage? Time to get out the rake!

2. Run your lawn mower.

For lawns with 50% leaf coverage or less, use your lawn mower to help break down the leaves and return nutrients and organic matter to the lawn. Simply run your mower over the leaves. A couple of passes might be necessary to get a fine chop, especially if you have larger leaves like those of maples, oaks, and sycamores. Small leaf pieces will settle between grass blades, where they’ll decompose over time. If your mower has a bagging attachment, you can use it to easily collect the leaves instead. Then add them to a compost pile, use them as garden mulch around plants that need winter protection, or dispose of them through your area’s yard waste channel.

3. Wait for all the leaves to fall.

It might be tempting to get a jump start on raking and begin as soon as leaves start to drop. But remember, a few leaves on the lawn aren’t going to hurt anything. Instead, save yourself some time by waiting until most leaves from your trees and shrubs are on the ground. Then break up the work into segments by raking one section of the lawn at a time.

4. Pick the right raking tools.

Comfort and ease of use is top of the list when choosing a leaf rake. The handle should be long enough for you to stand upright while raking. Rakes with durable steel tines are often preferred over rakes with plastic tines. Look for leaf rakes labeled “no clog” to avoid the chore of having to remove leaves stuck in the tines every few strokes. And a pair of gloves will help protect your hands from blisters as you work.

5. Stretch first.

While raking may seem simple, it can be physically stressful, even for healthy people. The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons (AAOS) recommends stretching to warm up your muscles for 10 minutes before moderately strenuous activities such as raking. Take time to stretch your shoulders, arms, and neck; do a few squats; and take a brisk walk. Stretching before raking can help stave off aches and pains after the chore is complete.

6. Make small movements and take breaks.

Raking can be a good way to get a little exercise, but it will feel a whole lot more pleasant if you don’t overdo it. Taking big, sweeping swipes with your rake will tire you out fast. Instead, use short strokes, making sure to keep your back straight. Switch the rake from the left and right sides of your body every few minutes to give your dominant arm and shoulder a rest. And every once in a while, put down your rake and take a break. Catch your breath, get a drink of water, and enjoy the brisk autumn weather.

7. Use wind power to your advantage.

Wrangling leaves when there’s a strong breeze can be comedic and maddening. Of course, calm weather is best for raking, but Mother Nature might not always cooperate with your weekend plans. When you can’t avoid raking on a blustery day, instead of fighting the wind, try harnessing it. If the wind is pushing leaves to the south, you and your rake do the same. Shorter rake strokes and small piles are most efficient on windy days.