Trees stand up to holiday lights

Garden Q&A

December 08, 1996

Do I run the risk of damaging my trees and shrubs by stringing Christmas lights all over them?

You can spruce up your trees and shrubs without causing them any harm. However, try to avoid breaking branches when hanging and taking down your lights; resist the temptation to drive nails or screws into healthy wood, and be sure that the plastic insulation covering the wires of your Christmas lights is not cut or frayed. Damaged wires are a fire hazard, of course.

I'm thinking ahead to a mild day when I can spray a wood preservative on my deck. Should I be concerned about the spray drifting onto shrubs and perennial beds below the deck?

Always read the label before spraying any wood preservative that might have contact with your landscape plants. Call the manufacturer's hot-line number for information not covered on the label. It's certainly possible -- depending on the material you are spraying, the types of plants involved and the weather conditions -- that plant foliage could be burned by spray drift. The damage would likely be minor and short-term, but it is still advisable to cover plants and turf adjacent to the deck with dropcloths. Also, spray your deck on a day when the air is very still.

All of the garden refuse that I've thrown into my compost pile this fall just looks wet. The ingredients are too heavy to turn and I don't see any signs of finished compost. Will it break down over the winter? Is there anything I can do to speed up the process?

Your pile will change very little between now and April. The microbes and soil invertebrates that decompose organic matter slow down considerably during the winter months. Very little activity takes place when the air temperature is below 50 degrees. In the spring, try adding a nitrogen source to your pile (grass clippings, manure, cottonseed meal, blood-meal or a quick-release fertilizer) and stir or turn the pile to move air to the dormant microbes.

The following tips should help you make compost faster next autumn:

Avoid adding twigs or woody brush.

Keep the pile covered to prevent waterlogging and leaching of nutrients.

Create a pile with a 50-50 mixture of green materials (grass clippings, spent plants) and brown materials (leaves, straw).

Add a nitrogen source such as finished compost.

Turn or aerate the pile once or twice before cold weather sets in.

Garden tips are provided by the Home and Garden Information Center of the Cooperative Extension Service of the University of Maryland. For additional information on these questions or if you have questions of your own, call the center's hot line at (800) 342-2507.

Checklist

Protect your fig plants this winter by bending the main stem over, pinning it to the ground and covering it with straw and leaves. Or build a chicken-wire cage around your bush and fill it full of dry leaves. Cover the top with plastic to keep moisture out.

Store all pesticides in a location where they will not freeze over the winter.

Pub Date: 12/08/96

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