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6 Of The Most Common Houseplant Pests And How To Get Rid Of Them

Rita Pelczar on how to remove common houseplant pests for Better Homes & Gardens.

Give these pesky bugs the boot for good.

Whether you grow a couple of African violets, pamper a fiddle leaf fig tree, or have a houseful of exotic tropical plants, you know that regular care helps keep all your houseplants healthy and happy. But despite all your TLC, from time to time your indoor garden may end up with an infestation of insects or mites. A few bugs won’t do much harm, but if left untreated, they can multiply and turn your favorite potted plant into an ugly mess, or even kill it. But don’t panic. Most common houseplant pests can be controlled with a few simple techniques and a little patience.

“When tackling houseplant insect pests, the first step is to ask yourself how much you value the plant. There are no quick fixes and it will take time and dedication to manage the pests,” says Laura Jesse Iles, director of the Plant and Insect Diagnostic Clinic at Iowa State University. If you decide to treat instead of toss your infested plant, Iles recommends isolating it to keep the problem from spreading to your other plants. Here’s how to get rid of the most common houseplant pests you may find.

1. Scales

Scales are soft-bodied insects that suck plant sap. Tiny crawlers (the immature stage) move a little as they feed. Adults cover themselves in a waxy, protective coating and stay put, so you might not even recognize the small white or brown bumps as bugs. Scales are most likely to be found on the underside of leaves and on stems, although they occasionally appear on the upper leaf surface as well. While they can feed on lots of different houseplants, scales are particularly fond of citrus trees, ivy, and figs.

Scale-infested leaves may turn yellow or drop off, and stems die back. The bugs also produce a sticky substance called honeydew that they leave on your plant. Besides making a mess, the sweet residue can attract ants, plus a black fungus called sooty mold often develops on it (not a good look).

How to Control Scales

Spray your plant with insecticidal soap ($10, The Home Depot) or neem oil ($11, The Home Depot) to smother crawlers. Adults are more difficult to control because of their waxy covering. Use your fingernail to gently scrape them off. If possible, remove heavily infested parts of the plant, such as older leaves. Check your plant regularly and scratch off any scales you see until the infestation is gone.

2. Mealybugs

Mealybugs are similar to scales; they are sapsuckers, have a waxy coating, and make honeydew. “Signs of a scale or mealybug infestation can include the presence of waxy deposits on the plant; of black sooty mold that grows on the honeydew produced by these insects, and (depending on how heavy the infestation is) sometimes yellowing and dying leaves, and distorted or stunted plant growth,” says Natalia von Ellenrieder of the Plant Pest Diagnostic Branch of the California Department of Agriculture. Female mealybugs produce a white, cottony material where they lay eggs that hatch into crawlers. Coleus, hoya, jade, gardenia, and poinsettias are particularly susceptible to mealybugs.

How to Control Mealybugs

Use a cotton swab dipped in rubbing alcohol to remove the mealybugs. For larger, sturdy plants, wash leaves off with a strong spray of water to dislodge the pests. Insecticidal soap and neem oil may be the best option for heavy infestations.

3. Spider Mites

Spider mites are so tiny that you may not even see them. They look like dark specks on leaves, but you’ll probably first notice their white silky webs in leaf axils or along veins. The mites suck sap from leaves and cause them to discolor and drop. Ivies, dracaenas, figs, hibiscus, and scheffleras are a few of their favorite hosts.

How to Control Spider Mites

Mite infestations are tough to control. If your plant is heavily infested, it’s best to get rid of it before the pests spread. “For spider mites and scales, catching the problem early and inspecting plants regularly makes a big difference. You can use some of the easier approaches of removing infested leaves, washing them off with soapy water, and crushing them,” says Kelley Hamby, an entomology professor at the University of Maryland. Increasing humidity around plants may also help limit spider mite build-up.

4. Whiteflies

These tiny, winged insects have a delicate, powdery white appearance. The immature stage doesn’t move much, but the adults flutter about when disturbed. Both stages suck plant sap, but it’s the immature stage that causes the most damage, feeding from the underside of leaves. “Immature whiteflies look a bit like scale insects,” says Iles. Infested leaves turn yellow and die, and the plant is often stunted. Keep a sharp eye out for them, especially on ivies, hibiscus, and poinsettias.

How to Control Whiteflies

An insecticidal soap or neem oil will get rid of whiteflies. “Be sure to apply to the underside of the leaves, where the whitefly immature stages will be,” says Iles. “Treatment will probably need to be done weekly until you no longer see any immature or adult whiteflies.”

5. Aphids

Aphids, another sap-sucking pest, also produce sticky honeydew. They can attack lots of different plants and are particularly fond of tender, new growth where they cause distorted growth and wilting. Their life cycle is short (usually 2-3 weeks long) so populations can increase rapidly.

How to Control Aphids

A hard spray of water will dislodge most aphids. Either take your plant outside to hose it down (if it’s not too cold) or use your shower sprayer. Insecticidal soap or neem oil sprays are also effective.

6. Fungus Gnats

Although tiny fungus gnat adults are more of a nuisance than a pest, the immature stage (larvae) feeds on plant roots and can cause growth problems, especially on young plants. “Fungus gnats are often a symptom of overwatering,” says Hamby.

How to Control Fungus Gnats

Allow the surface of soil in pots to dry between watering. Do not let water stand in saucers. Drenching soil with the biological insecticide Bacillus thuringiensis var. israelensis will control the larvae. Yellow sticky traps will help capture adults.

 

Reasons Why Mowing Wet Grass Is A Bad Idea

Kristina Perrin for Kitchen Infinity on why it’s a bad idea to mow your lawn when it’s wet.

 

Is your lawn looking a little shaggy? Are you thinking about mowing it, but the weather doesn’t seem to be cooperating? Then don’t do it. It’s better to wait until the grass has dried out than risk damaging it or your lawnmower by cutting when it’s too wet.

If you’re considering mowing your lawn, then make sure that the ground is dry before doing so. Otherwise, you’ll end up having to deal with clumpy grass and damaged equipment. And if you want to keep your yard healthy and green, don’t cut grass while wet. This will help prevent soil compaction, which can lead to erosion and runoff into local waterways like lakes and rivers. 

This article takes a deeper dive into mowing wet grass and why you should avoid it. Read on.

 

WHY YOU SHOULD NOT MOW A WET LAWN

Cutting Wet Grass Can Hurt Your Lawnmower

 

The first reason you shouldn’t cut wet grass is that it can damage your lawnmower. It’s not worth breaking out the mower if the grass has just been watered or if there are puddles on the ground. If you cut wet grass, you’ll likely end up with clumps of grass stuck to the underside of the mower deck.

The clumps will end up blending into your lawn, but they’ll also eventually dry and look like dirt until you run over them again with the mower. Moisture is problematic for the gasoline in the mower’s fuel tank, its metal, and indirectly its engine. Intruding moisture can cause corrosion if you don’t mix a stabilizer into the fuel tank.

Moist grass clippings that cake on the metal underside can cause rust. Even in the short term, the caked substance can stress the engine, impeding the motion of the mower blade and making your engine work harder to make up for it.

 

CUTTING WET GRASS CAN AFFECT YOUR LAWN’S HEALTH

Mowing wet grass doesn’t just affect your mower only; it can also have an impact on your lawn. Wet grass blades are more susceptible to disease and fungus infections, which can lead to problems with your lawn’s health down the road. For an ideal cut, your grass blades should be standing up off the ground.

Wet blades are heavier than dry ones, making such blades hug the ground. As your wet turf starts to dry after rain, some of your blades will resume their upright position and get chopped off when you mow. The resulting uneven look would be bad enough, but the result will be tears instead of a clean cut when you try to cut damp grass.

The wet clippings will mat down, preventing healthy airflow. If you allow wet grass clippings sticking to the underside of your mower deck to remain, you’re inviting mold that can spread to your turf. Also, making passes up and down a wet lawn with your machine can hurt your lawn.

 

The large wheels will sink into a moist surface in a way that they won’t in dry grass. The wheels will form ruts on the surface, directly damaging the grass. This will cause the soil to become compacted, causing damage over time. You can learn how to use core aeration to heal your grass and beautify your lawn.

 

YOU CANNOT CUT WET GRASS WITH AN ELECTRIC MOWER

Water and electricity don’t mix, so using an electric lawn mower on wet grass is out of the question. If your mower has a mulching attachment on it, then the clippings will stick to the underside of the mower deck and create an incredible mess.

You’re also at a greater risk of injury when mowing wet grass than dry grass with electric mowers, especially when an extension cord runs the risk of being wet and becoming a safety hazard. When this extension cord gets wet, it can damage your mower and even electrocute you while mowing.

Alternatively, opt for a cordless electric mower which provides a safer option since there are no exposed wires. However, these cordless don’t have enough power to cut through serious wet grass. So, it’s best to stick with a gas mower for wet grass because it’s the safest, effective, and least frustrating option.

 

UNEVEN CUTTING

When your mower’s blades hit hidden rocks or other debris while cutting through wet grass, it can cause the mower to jerk and unevenly cut the grass. This creates an unattractive look to your lawn and can also lead to scalping or slicing off too much of the grass blade, exposing the soil beneath.

Wet grass bends and lies closer to the ground compared to dry turf. This is because the dew on the grass blades makes them heavy, forcing them to bend down instead of standing upright. Your blades need to stand upright to cut the grass properly.

Otherwise, your mower will miss most of the grass, producing uneven cuts across your lawn. Once rainwater starts to drain away, and the grass blades dry up, sections of your lawn will appear as if you didn’t mow them. This uneven cut will make you go over the lawn and mow it afresh to get that even cut.

CLIPPINGS CLUMP ON THE LAWN AND STICKS TO THE MOWER

If your lawn is too long and wet, clippings will not just lie on the grass as usual after you mow it. Rather, they cling to blades of grass or form clumps resulting from heavy dew. The clippings won’t be as easy to collect and discharge from the mower’s bag if clumps and grass are stuck to it. This will require you to stop and clear your lawnmower blade before restarting the machine.

It’s not a good idea to mow wet grass, especially regularly, because the mower will produce wet clippings that easily clump together and lay over your grass. When wet clippings stay on your grass for some time, they’ll keep a lot of moisture over an extended period, exposing your lawn to fungus diseases.

So, it’s best to cut dry grass because the clippings will easily fall off your blade and can be collected in the bag. If you still prefer to mow your lawn after it rains, then consider getting a drag unit to help you clear the soaked clippings off the grass. Furthermore, check the deck frequently when mowing turf grass after the rain to ensure the clippings are not clumping it, which can be a problem for air tapered decks.

 

CUTTING WET GRASS CAN EASILY SPREAD DISEASES

Mowing wet grass can easily spread diseases because the clippings will be wet and covered in mud. If you mow over a disease-infested area, you’ll just be spreading the disease all over your lawn. When the clumps of damp, matted clippings are left on the lawn without sufficient airflow to dry out, the grass becomes more susceptible to fungal diseases.

The wet grass clippings that stick to the underside of the mower deck can grow mold which can spread to your lawn next time you mow. So, before you start cutting, make sure to walk around your yard and identify any infections such as the brown patch disease.

MOWING A WET LAWN GIVES YOU EXTRA WORK

Mowing a wet lawn is also more difficult because the grass is wet and heavy. This means you’ll have to spend more time mowing, and you’ll probably end up with a tired arm at the end of the day. In addition, wet grass stains your clothes, shoes, and every surface your shoe touches, making cleaning an uphill task.

If you must mow wet grass, make sure you take all the safety precautions. Start by testing your soil’s saturation. When you stand on your lawn, you shouldn’t sink into it or see water rising around the edges of your shoes. Therefore, mowing too much is a bad idea.

Without the presence of standing water, you could tame your yard to some degree using a stabilized gas-powered mower with sharp blades. If possible, set your mower to side discharge mode. Though this leaves rows of cut grass on your lawn for manual bagging later, it will save you the mess of dealing with a mower bag with a wet interior.

 

 

 

6 Pet-Friendly Holiday Houseplants To Celebrate The Season Safely

Jennifer Aldrich for Better Homes & Gardens gives some advice on safe pet-friendly plants for the holiday season.

Keep your furry friends safe with these festive plants that are non-toxic to dogs and cats.

The most wonderful time of the year can quickly turn into a nightmare before Christmas if your dog or cat ingests a houseplant that’s toxic to pets. “Symptoms from ingesting poisonous plants include vomiting, diarrhea, irritation of mouth and tongue, incoordination, difficulty swallowing, increased salivation, and difficulty breathing,” says Lora LaBranche, DVM, the vice president of veterinary operations for Vet’s Best Friend. “Depending on which plant and how much is ingested, death is possible.” Unfortunately, there are a handful of popular holiday houseplants that can be dangerous to your beloved pet. Some common harmful houseplants (that you might have in your home right now) include: pine tree, amaryllis, holly, and mistletoe.

The good news is that there are colorful, easy-to-care-for houseplants that are completely safe for your pet to be around, and they’re perfect for the holidays and beyond. And should a furry friend come into contact with a toxic plant, act quickly to ensure your pet survives. “If your pet ingests a poisonous plant or exhibits symptoms, take them to the veterinarian immediately for treatment,” LaBranche says. “It is advised that you avoid owning houseplants that are poisonous to pets, but if you do have them, keep them away from your pets and routinely check them to make sure the leaves aren’t being chewed.”

To keep your pets happy and healthy and to help you have a stress-free holiday season, shop these holiday houseplants that are all pet-friendly.

Holiday Cactus

Whether you choose a Christmas cactus or Thanksgiving cactus, these plants won’t harm your pets. Both types of holiday cactus produce beautiful flowers in pink, red, yellow, or white. Not only can the holiday cactus live for decades, but it’s also a fuss-free plant to grow. Unlike other varieties of cactus, these houseplants don’t have sharp spines and they prefer indirect light. Water your plant regularly, and keep the soil moist while it’s flowering. Your cactus will slowly grow anywhere from 6-12 inches tall and 1-2 feet wide.

Moth Orchid

A moth orchid (Phalaenopsis) is a beautiful choice for anyone who loves the look of fresh-cut flowers but wants something longer-lasting. (It happens to be The Sill’s best-selling blooming plant.) Keep your orchid in a spot where it’ll receive medium to bright indirect light. Moth orchids only need water every 10-14 days when the bark or moss in the pot feels dry. Your orchid, which will grow about 6-12 inches tall, will bloom once a year for about three months. Once all the blooms have dropped off, trim off the flower spike just above the second node (small bump) up from the base of the plant. Your orchid will rebloom with proper care the following year.

Pinstripe Calathea

This lush foliage plant is another easy-to-care-for option. The pinstripe calathea (Calathea ornata) features green leaves with streaks of bright pink lines (hence the plant’s name). It prefers medium to bright indirect light and needs water every one to two weeks. With correct care, the houseplant can grow 3 feet tall.

Silver Vase Bromeliad

Brighten up your space and holiday displays with this gorgeous bromeliad (Aechmea fasciata) that can bloom for up to 6 months out of the year. The low-maintenance houseplant likes partial to bright indirect light. Also known as urn plant, this bromeliad has an interesting feature when it comes to watering. You add water to the center of the plant (the urn formed by the leaves), as opposed to the soil. Make sure the middle of the plant has water in it at all times, and every few weeks, empty out the liquid and add fresh water. This pretty blooming tropical plant can grow up to 18 inches tall.

Pink Polka Dot Plant

Another pretty and pink holiday houseplant is the polka dot plant (Hypoestes phyllostachya). Give this little plant bright indirect light and moist soil. It can grow around 1-2 feet tall and 1 foot wide. Polka dot plant does best with high humidity so try it in a terrarium.

Large Majesty Palm

A tall majesty palm (Ravenea rivularis) can stand in for a Christmas tree if your pets won’t leave the real deal alone. The indoor tree likes bright indirect light and needs water every one to two weeks or when the soil is dry to the touch. This palm can grow up to 10 feet tall and the fronds are strong enough to hold lightweight ornaments. (Note that majesty palms are slow-growing, so it will take the tree several years to get to its mature height.)

 

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

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’.

       

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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.

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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).

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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′.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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)

INDIAN SUMMER: WHAT, WHY, AND WHEN?

WHAT IS AN INDIAN SUMMER?

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…

WHAT IS AN INDIAN SUMMER?

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….

 

WHY IS IT CALLED AN “INDIAN SUMMER”?

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.