Be Thankful for…

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Be Thankful for…Tasty Treats from the Garden!

Thanksgiving is a time to be Thankful for everything that you have to enrich your life. One great thing about Thanksgiving is the wonderful meal that you can share with your loved ones and closest friends. Your Thanksgiving feast featured a great deal of products that you can grow from your garden in your own backyard.

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Green Snap Beans photo courtesy of Alice Henneman via Flickr Creative Commons License.

 

Green Bean casserole and sweet corn are staple side dishes to any Thanksgiving dinner. These vegetables could have been purchased at the store, or you may have grown them in your garden and preserved them to be used in this meal. Sweet potatoes can also be grown in Nebraska and stored in a cool location in your home to be enjoyed for the Holiday season. The cranberry sauce uses cranberries that may not have been grown in your garden, but could have come from the United States. Massachusetts is the leading producer of cranberries in the United States, followed by Wisconsin. There is also the delicious and healthy relish tray that is always present at these meals to snack on while waiting for the meal. The relish tray includes many vegetables grown in the United States, including carrots that could have been grown in a cold frame or fall garden that could be fresh from your Nebraska garden. Pumpkin pie is also a must for any Thanksgiving table, the pumpkin from the Famous ‘Libby’s Pumpkin Pie Mix’ is grown in Illinois, but you can make your own pumpkin pie filling using pumpkins grown in your own backyard. You can also use apples, cherries, and pecans from your trees for these pies.

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Gourd arrangement provided to Extension Office by a Master Gardener.

We also use plenty of horticulture products as decorations for the holidays. Often we use pumpkins and gourds to decorate for Thanksgiving. These can be grown in our own backyards. There is a nice basket arrangement of gourds that are sitting on the front counter of the Gage County Extension office that were graciously donated to us by a Master Gardener who grew them in her garden. We are very thankful to have this to enjoy throughout the season.

Also, many people use the long Thanksgiving weekend to decorate their homes for the Christmas season, mainly putting up their Christmas tree, which is a wonderful gift from nature. The most common tree species used for Christmas trees in Nebraska include: Balsam Fir, Blue Spruce, Concolor Fir, Douglas-Fir, Fraser Fir, Scotch Pine, or Eastern White Pine. The trunk needs a fresh cut before being placed in the stand. Cuts more than 4 hours old may not take up water. Avoid removing bark because the tissue that transports water is under the bark, removing it will prevent the tree from taking up water.

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Be thankful to the Tree and to the growers for this wonderful enjoyment for the season, it took about 7 years for a Christmas tree farmer to grow the trees from seedlings to retail sale height, which is about 6 feet, according to the Nebraska Christmas Tree Growers Association. They also say that for every live Christmas tree harvested, 2-3 seedlings are planted in its place. This helps to ensure future years of tree sales and tree replacement is always a good practice.

So this year, remember to be thankful for the wonderful growing opportunities we have in Nebraska. Be thankful for the soil, plentiful rain, and warm sunlight. Enjoy your horticulture commodities this Thanksgiving and throughout the winter months that you grew in your garden and were able to preserve for use throughout the year. And, next year plan to grow some of these products in your garden to enjoy for the next Thanksgiving gathering.

Holiday Plants

Happy Holidays wreath for blog

Happy Holidays! The holiday season is very enjoyable, especially the wonderful decorations. Many of our holiday decorations are horticultural displays like the main centerpiece of the season, which is a tree. We use holly plants for their berries and green leaves. We also use greenery from conifers as wreaths, swags and garland. These decorations not only look nice for the season but they tend to bring a nice holiday scent inside our homes.

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Wreaths can be made from greenery from your own landscape. Fresh greenery not only adds a great decorating touch to your home for the holidays, but it also will add a nice holiday scent to your home. White pine, juniper, spruce, ivy and holly are all great choices of live greenery for your home this holiday season. You can take these directly from your landscape, just be careful when you prune these decorations off of your living plants. Don’t make all of cuts in the same location and try to make them far enough back in the plant that the other branches cover the cuts. Use a hand pruner to make good cuts that will not harm your tree or shrub.

Holly makes a good to plant use as decoration in our homes for the holidays. According to Clemson Cooperative Extension, evergreens are used to decorate the house for the holiday because they are used to represent everlasting life and hope for the return of spring. Holly plants are evergreen shrubs with dark green or variegated foliage and have bright red berries to make a beautiful holiday display. The berries of holly are poisonous, so keep them out of reach of children and pets.

Mistletoe is another great holiday tradition. This is the small leafy plant that we hang from a doorway or just somewhere up high where people will walk under it. The tradition is that if two people meet underneath the mistletoe they are supposed to kiss. This tradition began in ancient times as a ritual people did to increase their chance of marriage in the upcoming year. The berries of mistletoe are also poisonous, so keep them out of reach of small hands and pets as well.

Multiple colors of Poinsettia

Poinsettia Photo by Jan Hygnstrom, UNL Department of Agronomy and Horticulture

Poinsettias are a wonderful plant for the holiday. The traditional poinsettia is red, but newer varieties can be found in white, pink, peach, yellow, and marbled or speckled colors. The colored portion of the poinsettia is actually a bract, or a modified leaf, not a flower. The flowers are the tiny yellow parts in the center of the colored bracts. Poinsettias are not poisonous, but can cause a skin reaction, so keep them out of reach of small children and pets.

When we purchase holiday plants, the care of them begins in the store where you purchase them. The first thing you need to do for the best health of those plants is to ensure that they are covered up with plastic as you bring them out to your car from the store and from your car to your home. Exposure to cold temperatures and wind, that is inevitable in Nebraska, can damage the leaves, the flowers or the bracts. When you get them home, you should take the plastic off of the plant and be sure to keep the plant watered. You also need to make sure that your plant is in a pot with drainage holes and remove the decorative wrapping from the pot when you get it home to allow for more drainage. This will help you enjoy your holiday plants for the whole holiday season and then some. Have a Happy Holiday Season!

Choosing a Christmas Tree

Christmas Tree canva

Happy Thanksgiving! It’s that time again, when we move into the Holiday Season. Typically, Thanksgiving weekend is the time when people begin to put up their holiday displays in and around their homes. These displays almost always include a Christmas tree. Getting a fresh tree from a local farm is an enjoyable experience for the family to do together.

There are 25 Christmas tree farms in Nebraska. A few of these farms are located very near us in southeast Nebraska. To get a tree from a local tree farm you can visit: Pinecrest Tree Farm in Blue Springs, Kohout’s Christmas Trees near Dorchester, Walnut Grove Tree Farm in Raymond, or Prairie Woods in Hallam, to name a few. There are many other listed, to find a tree farm closest to you, visit the Nebraska Christmas Tree Growers Association online at: nebraskachristmastreegrowers.com

When choosing your Christmas tree, choose one that suits your room size and desires of your family. Make sure that it will fit in the room you plan to place it in and that it won’t overtake the room. It might be a good idea to take a few measurements before leaving home. The most common tree species used for Christmas trees in Nebraska include:

  • Balsam Fir
  • Blue Spruce
  • Concolor Fir
  • Douglas-Fir
  • Fraser Fir
  • Scotch Pine
  • Eastern White Pine
Christmas tree farm, flickr, UGA College of Ag & Env

Flickr image courtesy of UGA College of Ag and Environmental Sciences-OCCS per CC license

It takes about 7 years for a Christmas tree farmer to grow his or her trees from seedlings to retail sale height, which is about 6 feet, according to the Nebraska Christmas Tree Growers Association. They also say that for every real Christmas tree harvested, 2-3 seedlings are planted in its place. This helps to ensure future years of tree sales and tree replacement is always a good practice.

Be sure to keep live trees watered throughout the holiday season. If they don’t have water they will dry out quickly and not look as fresh and beautiful. When you purchase a real Christmas tree, be sure to make a new cut on the trunk of the tree to open up the stem for water uptake. Christmas trees rarely, if ever, start fires in our homes, except in the famous National Lampoons Christmas Vacation, but they need to be watered to help them retain their color and keep your floor from getting too messy from fallen needles. Even if they don’t start fires, it is best to place your tree in your home away from fireplaces, air ducts, and televisions.

After the holiday season, it is best to recycle your Christmas tree. There are many ways to recycle your trees that give it better use than just taking it to the local landfill or burn pile. Many people take their trees out to local lakes to the areas designated for Christmas tree recycling. The trees are placed on the ice in the winter and when the ice melts in the spring, they fall into the lake for fish habitat. You can also chip your old tree and use it for mulch in your garden in the spring. These recycling methods will help you to enjoy your Christmas tree all year long.

Pumpkins

Gourds

The trees are beginning to turn beautiful fall colors, the leaves are beginning to fall, and scary movies are starting to come back into the theatres. This must mean Halloween is on its way.

The best part of Halloween, to me, is the pumpkins. I love the smell of a freshly carved pumpkin and the look of the carved pumpkins on my front steps lit up for Halloween night. Pumpkins can be used for a variety of things throughout October and November and they can be grown in your garden right in your own backyard.

Pumpkins are a member of the cucurbit family of garden plants, which includes cucumbers, squash, gourds, watermelons, cantaloupes, and zucchini. We can use them for eating, roasting the seeds, and carving for a Halloween decoration. We can also store them and use them for Thanksgiving decorations.

Flickr image courtesy of Robert S. Donovan per CC license

Flickr image courtesy of Robert S. Donovan per CC license

If you grow pumpkins in your garden, it is now time to begin harvesting them, if you haven’t already started. Pumpkins can be harvested when they are mature in color and when they have a firm rind, when your fingernail does not puncture the rind when lightly pushed into it. It is best to remove all pumpkins prior to or within 1-2 days after a killing frost. Cut pumpkins off of the rind leaving 3-4 inches of stem on the pumpkin to help them resist organisms that lead to decay.

After the pumpkins are harvested, they should be cured to last longer in storage. Leave pumpkins in an area where they receive 80-85 degree temperatures with 80-90 percent relative humidity for 10 days. Pumpkins will store if not cured, but they will store longer, up to 3 months, if they are cured first. After cured, they are best stored in areas of 50-55 degree temperatures.

It is best to use the correct pumpkin for the task, such as using a jack-o-lantern pumpkin for carving and a processing pumpkin for making pies. Both types of pumpkins can be used for either activity, but they work better if you get the right type for the task at hand. However, you do not want to carve a pumpkin and use it for Halloween and then use it for making a pumpkin pie. A carved pumpkin is a perishable item, therefore cannot be used for baking or cooking if it has been left out, after being carved into, for more than 2 hours.

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Many people are concerned about the length of time a carved pumpkin will last on their front porch. The problem is that there isn’t a good treatment to get them to hold that carving for very long. The best idea is to wait until no more than one week before Halloween until you carve your pumpkin. It is best for the carving if you can do it as close to Halloween as possible. Another thing that will help with longevity of a pumpkin for Halloween is to ensure that you purchase or pick a pumpkin in good condition. Avoid pumpkins with soft spots, signs of decay, short stems, and other signs to show that decay has already begun in the pumpkin. If decay is already present in the pumpkin before you carve into it, it will ruin your carving that much sooner. If the weather is warm outside, store the pumpkins in a cool area until Halloween to keep the carving intact. Hopefully all of these tips can help you grow a great pumpkin and have a great pumpkin for Halloween. Happy Halloween!

Care of Valentine’s Day Gifts

Bouquet

Valentine’s Day will be here before we know it, have you bought your loved one some flowers or maybe a houseplant to show them you love them.  Valentines’ Day is one of the biggest horticultural holidays that we have.  Personally, I like any holiday that gives anyone a reason to purchase or receive flowers.  For Valentine’s Day, many florists offer the option of either cut flowers or potted plants and houseplants.

Cut flowers are beautiful, especially roses on Valentine’s Day.  They smell so wonderful and they can really brighten a day.  Roses are a great choice for this holiday, as they are the staple for the day.  The great thing about roses is that they come in many different colors to suit each person’s unique tastes.  There are a lot of other great cut flowers to choose from for this holiday, or any day you want to tell someone you love them or you are thinking about them.  Other great cut flower choices include: carnation, daisy, snapdragon, lily, mum and many more.  Any of these would be a great choice, just pick something you or the recipient likes.  The best way to decide on flowers is to go into a shop and pick them out yourself, you can also browse a large selection online but you don’t get to “stop and smell the roses” in that case.

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Care of cut flowers is important to make them last longer.

  • Purchase fresh flowers
  • Gift them soon after purchase
  • Re-cut the stems at an angle with a clean, sharp knife
    • It allows them to draw water in for lasting, full blooms
  • Remove any leaves that might fall below the water line
    • Leaves in the water line will deteriorate and cause bacteria to get into the water and eventually the flowers.
  • Do not use ice-cold water
    • Use lukewarm water for best absorption by the flowers.
  • Use a clean vase
  • Change the water daily
  • Use the flower preservative that comes with the bouquet
  • Do NOT placed in full sunlight or in drafty rooms or near the door

If you want to keep the flowers even longer, you can dry them. Begin the drying process before the flowers begin to wilt by hanging them upside down for a few weeks.  I always tie some string around the bouquet then use a clothespin to hang them on curtains.  Dried flowers do lose color in the process, but still look nice.  If the flowers are hanging where they lie flat against a wall or other object, they will dry with a flat side, so be sure to check to make sure they are away from other objects.

Houseplant

Photo by S. Cochran, UNL Extension in Lancaster County

For a houseplant or potted plant, there are many choices.  Orchid, Bromeliad, Kalanchoe, Gerber Daisy, Amaryllis, and Cyclamen are good choices with flowers.  You can also choose the greenery type, with little flower appearances including: philodendron, aloe, Mother-in-Law’s tongue, coleus, and ficus.  During the summer these can be placed outside to add to your landscape, but you don’t want to leave them outside during the winter, as they will not overwinter.  If you do place any houseplants outside during the summer, before you bring them inside look for or treat any pests that may have gotten on the plants while outside.  Each plant is going to have different care instructions such as light and watering instructions.  Follow the labels given in the plants for care, or if you have questions about the care of a particular plant, call your local Extension Office for these answers.

Poinsettias

Christmas Lights 2012Christmas will be here before we know it. One of my favorite things to do for the Holidays is decorate my home.  I love to put lights outside on my house and put up a large Christmas Tree in my home, but another great holiday decoration is a Poinsettia.

Photo by Jan Hygnstrom, UNL Department of Agronomy and Horticulture

Photo by Jan Hygnstrom, UNL Department of Agronomy and Horticulture

Poinsettias are houseplants in Nebraska as it prefers temperatures of 60-70 degrees Fahrenheit during the day and around 55 degrees Fahrenheit at night, according to the University of Illinois Extension.  This plant is has dark green leaves and due to the fact that this is a member of the spurge family, it has a milky, white sap when the stems or leaves are broken.  The red “flowers” that are seen on poinsettias are actually bracts, which are modified leaves, and the flowers are actually the small, yellow centers to those red bracts.  Poinsettias can be purchased in many different colors including the traditional red, white, pink, or burgundy or varieties that have speckled or marbled colored bracts.

Photo by Jan Hygnstrom, UNL Department of Agronomy and Horticulture

Photo by Jan Hygnstrom, UNL Department of Agronomy and Horticulture

The care of a poinsettia, can be tricky as these plants tend to be particular about their care.

  • Make sure you do not water this plant until the soil has dried out, poinsettias do not like to set in water
  • Do not waiting until the plant wilts prior to watering again
  • Remove the plastic wrap immediately
  • Place it in an area where the plant will get indirect light for 6 hours a day
  • Keep the plant away from cold drafts
  • Keep it from touching a cold window
  • Do not fertilize poinsettias during the flowering period

If you plan to keep the poinsettia for next year, you have to take special care of it to get it to rebloom next year.

  • Starting in late September or early October, place the plant in a room of complete darkness or closet from 5pm to 8am daily.
  • Once the bracts begin to show color on them, in December, you can bring them out of the darkness period.
Photo by Jan Hygnstrom, UNL Department of Agronomy and Horticulture

Photo by Jan Hygnstrom, UNL Department of Agronomy and Horticulture

Poinsettias are commonly considered a poisonous plant, which is not true.  The milky sap can cause an allergic reaction in some people who come into contact with it, as is true with all plants in the spurge family.  Ohio State University did a research project that showed that a 50 pound child would have to eat more than 500 leaves to have a harmful effect, which wouldn’t happen as the leaves have a bad taste.  They still should be kept out of reach of small children, as is the case with all houseplants.  This plant should be kept out of reach of pets though as the ingestion of the leaves can cause vomiting.  Poinsettias are the most common Christmas plant, according to the University of Illinois Extension.

Poinsettias can be used to celebrate the holidays, celebrate Poinsettia Day, or to just enjoy as a plant blooming in December.  The care for these plants takes careful consideration from the person keeping it in their home, but with care, it can be beautiful.  It also doesn’t have to be a plant that blooms for the season and then goes in the trash.  If you get a poinsettia for the Holiday season this year, try to keep it around for next year and try to get it to rebloom, it can be done.

Making a Wreath from Your Landscape

DSCN5867The holiday season is so enjoyable.  One of my favorite things to do for Christmas is to decorate my home.  One thing that we can make ourselves from our own landscapes, is a wreath using the items we find in outside.

There are many choices for plants you can trim to use to make a holiday wreath.  Many good choices include: Douglas fir, Austrian pine, white pine, yew, red cedar, and juniper.  Spruces and hemlock are not good choices to use for wreaths because they tend to lose their needles quickly.  You can also use many plants with berries on them for accent including bittersweet, snowberry, coralberry or holly.  For other accents on the wreath you may choose to use pinecones, poinsettia bracts, bows, ornaments, or other trinkets.

DSCN5798 You do need to be cautious when trimming your plants for use in your wreath so you do not damage the plant itself so that it can be aesthetically pleasing in the spring and in future years.  Make sure to cut back to a larger branch.  Don’t leave stubs of branches with no needles on them.  Try to cut back into the plant so the cuts are hidden by other branches.  Don’t take all of your sprigs from the same location on the same plant so you do not leave a bare spot in the plant.  If you are careful with your trimming, you will do no damage to the plants and get a nice wreath out of it.

For the base of the wreath, you need to purchase or create your own frame.  The frame can be a pre-made commercial wreath frame for a quicker finished product.  To make your own frame, use a heavy-duty wire, such as No. 9 wire or an old wire coat hanger, to make a circle.  The ends should be intertwined to make a circle.  You can also make the frame from slender branches of plants such as wisteria, willow, or grapes.  A frame with a diameter of 10-15 inches makes an average sized wreath.

DSCN5830To attach the plant material to the wreath, use No 22 or 24 floral wire.  The sprigs should only be 4-6 inches long.  If you make the sprigs longer, they will not be held to the frame and will droop off the frame.  First, attach the binding wire to the wreath frame.  Then, add 3-4 sprigs at a time and run the wire around the frame and the cut end of the sprigs 2 or 3 times for each section of greenery.  The ends of each sprig of greenery should be cleared back an inch or so from the cut end of the sprig to allow for wiring to the frame.  Add each new set of sprigs over the cut end of the sprigs you already attached to the frame so that it covers the wire and the cut ends.  Continue this all the way around the frame of the wreath.  More sprigs of greenery can be added throughout to help the wreath look fuller.

Complete the wreath by attaching other items to the wreath that will help make the wreath more intriguing and your own, these should be items that you enjoy for the holiday season.  These accents should be attached to the wreath frame using the same wire that was used to attach the greenery.  The best thing about making your own wreath for the holidays is that it can be exactly what you want it to be.

This wreath can then be hung up by the wire frame onto a door or wall to enjoy throughout the holiday season.  To see a video on how to make a wreath from your landscape, visit the UNL Acreage Insights website, in December or after, at http://acreage.unl.edu