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Archives for January 6, 2018

Monthly gardening classes to continue at library

The presentation will cover the basics of good garden design including the necessary steps for proper assessment, plan development and implementation. In addition, the criteria for optimum plant selection and consideration of garden maintenance issues will be addressed. Register by calling the library at 218-829-5574 or visit

The free Master Gardener classes will take place at noon every month at the library. Classes will be facilitated by certified U of M Extension Crow Wing County Master Gardeners

discussing subjects ranging from garden tools to gourds. To find out more visit

Upcoming speakers in the monthly series are:

• Feb. 13: “Add Color to your Landscape with Flowering Shrubs” by Jennifer Knutson.

• March 13: “Getting to Know Native Woodland Plants” by Coralee Fox.

• April 10: “Garden Seeds: Starting, Sowing, and Saving” by Weaver.

• May 8: “Growing Hardy Roses Up North” by Jackie Burkey.

• June 12: “Hostas: From Minis to Giants” by Knutson.

• July 10: “The Moon Garden” by Knutson.

• Aug. 14: “Outwitting Peter Rabbit and Bambi” by Weaver.

• Sept. 11: “Trees: Choose Wisely and Plant Properly” by Burkey.

• Oct. 9: “Spring Blooming Bulbs for Northern Gardens” by Knutson.

• Nov. 13: “Worm Composting (Vermicomposting)” by Burkey.

• Dec. 11: “Holiday Pizzazz: Using Plants in Your Holiday Decor” by Weaver.

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Gardening trends 2018: tough shrubs, seaweed and nematodes …

Seaweed products are a good source of potassium, magnesium and trace elements and are useful for organic gardeners wishing to avoid synthetic fertilisers or fertilisers made from animal products. Seaweed and seaweed fertilisers are usually a sustainable, renewable resource. Mr Fothergill’s found demand so strong this winter, it had to order an extra shipping container of Seasol, containing 18,900 one-litre bottles. 

Demand for organic fertilisers and chemicals is slowly increasing (although “naturals” still only account for less than 10 per cent of the market). Big companies such as Westland, Scotts and SBM all launched new ranges at industry trade show Glee in September. Vegan and “clean” eating trends could be helping to drive this, as a more radically environmental generation of gardeners takes to growing food. 

New diseases

Two of the big questions for 2018 are, once again, how will Brexit affect British gardeners and will the continental plant disease Xylella fastidiosa reach these shores? As the UK strengthens its borders against plant pests and diseases to try to prevent another ash dieback or Dutch elm disease ravaging the countryside, we could see an increase in UK plant production. A Brexit-led rise in import costs could also encourage greater self-sufficiency.

“Save the Oak” could be the new save the elm or ash campaign. The Government’s Animal and Plant Health Agency and the new Action Oak Partnership, which includes Kew and the National Trust, are to exhibit at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show to push the message that threats such as xylella, honey fungus, mildews and oak processionary moth are putting Britain’s national tree in peril. 

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Design trends and tips for 2018 from lifestyle expert James Farmer

Well-known lifestyle expert James Farmer will bring his charming Southern accent and signature plaid shirts to Southwest Florida on Monday morning.

Farmer, a professional garden, floral and interior designer, will discuss elegant garden living during a Naples Garden Club meeting that’s open to the public. The club is a local organization of more than 200 members that aim to promote appreciation and understanding of horticulture design

Check-in begins at 9:30 a.m. Monday at the Buehler Auditorium at Naples Botanical Garden, 4940 Bayshore Drive, in East Naples, and the meeting starts at 10 a.m.

Space is limited, so visit to pre-register.

Farmer is editor-at-large of Southern Living magazine and a frequent guest on TV and radio segments. He’s the author of eight books: “A Time to Plant”; “A Place to Call Home”; “A Time to Cook”; “Dinner on the Grounds”; “A Time to Celebrate”; “Porch Living”; “Wreaths for All Seasons”; and “Sip Savor.”

More: Shop his books

Farmer, sometimes called “the Martha Stewart of the South,” is an expert on all things house and home. Ahead of his talk in Naples on Monday, Farmer shared six home design tips to stay on trend in 2018:

Finish strong

Don’t spread your budget all over the house; finish a space and finish it strong. A completed space works wonders for the psyche and gives you a great place to live and entertain.

Don’t be afraid of color

If you have a color you love, use it, but that favorite color doesn’t always have to be the room’s wall color. Pottery, art, pops here and there give you that quench of color you’re craving.

Grasscloth works miracles

Paint can be lackluster, yet grasscloth can give texture and color depth where paint cannot. Tight sisal weaves or chunky raffia — grasscloth is a great worker bee for a room.

Make your powder room a jewel box

A fabulous paper, terrific art, showstopper lights — everyone uses your powder room at a party, so make it fun. It’s often the smallest room, but it can make a big statement.

Layers, layers, layers

A tribal rug layered atop a seagrass rug; books stacked with framed photos; seasonal arrays on the mantel or sideboard — these add personality and the “loved and lived in” feel and look. A well-seasoned look and feel is so warm and inviting — it makes a house a home.

Fresh flowers are a must

Even a small bouquet by your bedside table or kitchen counter makes a terrific impact. Fresh fruit does, too. I love bringing the season inside.

James Farmer at Naples Botanical Garden

  • When: 10 a.m. to noon Monday
  • Where: Buehler Auditorium at Naples Botanical Garden, 4940 Bayshore Drive, East Naples
  • Cost: Free

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Some side hustles are free to start

Starting a business is often a pricey ordeal, but no- to low-cost ideas exist for aspiring entrepreneurs with unique and marketable talent.

Take inventory of the skills you already possess, recommends Holly Reisem Hanna, founder of career blog The Work at Home Woman. List your past jobs, education, training, passions, skills and talents to help identify vocational patterns and interests that can guide you toward your new business venture.

“In this exercise, you want to go deep,” she says, “so include what you liked and didn’t like about past jobs, training and schooling.”

Need more small business ideas to get the wheels turning? Consider these classic business ideas you can start with no immediate costs.

Consulting and teaching

Your best assets are the knowledge and skills you already have. So whether you’re a math whiz, grammar guru or musical wunderkind, consider selling your well-honed expertise. While you may eventually want to spend a few dollars to get the word out about your services — beyond, say, your social media contacts — you already have the tools you need to get started, which will help keep overhead low.

Manual work

Everyday home maintenance and repairs have a habit of piling up, so if you’re naturally handy around the house, consider positioning yourself as a master of manual labor. Start by specializing in a niche area, like building your expertise in painting or landscaping to help build credibility among clients and not overextend yourself.

Pet services

Americans shell out big bucks when it comes to their pets. According to the American Pet Products Association, pet owners spent $66.8 billion on their animals in 2016, with $5.8 billion of that going toward services like grooming and boarding. If pets are your passion, you can start a dog-walking or pet-sitting business for little to no money. Later on, you might take it a step further and become a trainer, though you’ll want to invest in a certification to give your business credibility.

Personal training

Cashing in on the fitness craze is a great idea for the athletically blessed, and there are no required costs for starting out. You can start by working out with clients in public spaces like parks and focusing on body-resistance exercises. Take your hustle to the next level by investing in some gear, like resistance bands or weights, to keep your clients progressing — and coming back to you for more. While there are no state or federal laws regulating who can and cannot declare themselves a personal trainer, a potential cost (and a worthwhile one, at that) is getting certified by an industry organization like the American Council on Exercise. You’ll also want to consider liability insurance to cover any client injuries that may happen while you’re training them.


Hanna recommends avoiding work in highly regulated industries, like health care, because the guidelines can be hard to navigate. Even outside of tricky industries, there are common pitfalls to avoid when pursuing your side job:

— Don’t jeopardize your main hustle. You may need to maintain full-time employment to generate income while your business is getting off the ground. It’s crucial you don’t allocate your best self to your side hustle and phone it in on your regular job. It’s also good to double-check your contract — you don’t want to start a new business only to realize you signed a noncompete clause with your full-time employer.

— Look into licensing and certificates. Keeping overhead costs low is important, but there are some corners you don’t want to cut. Even if you’re building a business off of your existing skills, like cutting hair or baking, for example, make sure you follow regulatory guidelines for your industry. If you plan to run your business from your home, check your home insurance policy for what incidents are covered and which ones aren’t, and buy riders accordingly for added protection.

This article was provided to The Associated Press by the personal finance website NerdWallet. Jackie Zimmermann is a writer at NerdWallet. Email: Twitter: @jackie–zm.


NerdWallet: Guide to starting a business

The Work at Home Woman

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3220 Brickyard Avenue – Rock Springs, WY

5 BD.   |   2 BATH   |  2622 SQ. FT.
  Granite counter tops, 2 Stall Garage, Walk in closets

Move in ready! Two items left for you to make it your own. Clean canvas for your landscaping ideas and lower bath ready for you to design.

The main level has an open concept living, kitchen and dining area. Large Master Bedroom with bath and walk in closet. Also on the main floor is two bedrooms and bath with all custom tile work. Granite counter tops throughout.

The basement has a man cave to make your own along with two beds and large storage area.

Call 307-870-7381 to view the home today.

Additional details about this home:

  • $344,000
  • Ranch style home
  • 5 bedrooms
  • 2 bathrooms
  • Move in ready!
  • Attached 2 stall garage
  • Built in appliances
  • Thermal windows
  • Finished basement
  • Large master bedroom
  • Walk in closets
  • Man cave
  • Theater/Entertainment room

Schedule a Viewing

Contact Kelly Palmer for more information about the home or to schedule a viewing.

Phone: 307-870-7381
Office address: 601 Broadway, Rock Springs




Paid Advertisement - This post was paid for by the business or individual represented above. We reserve the right to remove any comments. If you'd like to advertise your business in a future promotion similar to this, call our Advertising Team at 307-922-0700 or send us a message.

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Belton’s Professional Lawn Care & Landscaping Services …


Durham, North Carolina Belton’s Professional Lawn Care Landscaping is a company focused on making sure that gardens, lawns, and yards are given the right care to remain fresh and look great daily. Serving key areas in North Carolina like Durham, Chapel Hill, Carrboro, Hillsborough, and Morrisville, the group offers great services that are reasonably priced. With flexible and affordable yard maintenance plans, keeping landscapes green and fresh just got easier with Belton’s Professional Lawn Care Landscaping.

Several homeowners have already tried the services of Belton’s Professional Lawn Care Landscaping and most have been raving about the results. Michael McGrath expressed his approval and vowed to avail of Belton’s Professional Lawn Care Landscaping services again in the future. “Dude was working on my neighbor’s lawn. I asked him for prices and he offered to stay and work on my yard too. The prices were awesome compared to the big box providers that don’t care about your lawn. He also did multiple passes and took pride in his work. Will be calling him for more work in the spring.”

Maintaining a garden, lawn, or yard takes a lot of time and hard work. Pressed for time, some call on local gardeners or even pay inexperienced individuals to do it for them. While that may be cost-efficient, the desired results may not exactly turn out the way most want it to. When attention to detail and quality counts, it would be best to try out the specialty services of Belton’s Professional Lawn Care Landscaping. For those who don’t have the time, investing in true professionals is wiser than contracting people simply there to earn a buck.

Belton’s Professional Lawn Care Landscaping is not limited to cleaning backyards or monthly lawn maintenance. They also offer other services including landscaping services, tree services, and home services (i.e. gutter cleaning, pressure washing, or tile work). With so much to offer, all a person has to do is pick up the phone or sit down with them to discuss work.

Belton’s Professional Lawn Care Landscaping is located at 2511 Camellia Dr. Durham, NC 27705. Appointments and quotes for lawn services can be made by phone at (919) 590-5221 or via email at [email protected] For potential customers who want to learn more about the company and open to trying out free estimates, this can be done online at

Media Contact
Company Name: Belton’s Professional Lawn Care Landscaping
Contact Person: Julian Belton
Email: [email protected]
Phone: (919) 590-5221
Address:2511 Camellia Dr.
City: Durham
State: North Carolina
Country: United States

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Compost maintenance key in winter months

Composting is a nutrient-rich resource for home-based gardens that is easily maintained, but Tuesday night’s fire on Schaeffer Way serves as a reminder that under certain conditions the piles can — and do — spontaneously combust.

Compost is decomposed “green” and “brown” organic matter. The decomposed matter can then be used in gardens, landscaping, horticulture and agriculture. Compost can act as a soil conditioner, a fertilizer, as well as a natural pesticide for soil.

“We have items we call ‘green’ items and items we call ‘brown,’” Lyon County Extension Agent Travis Carmichael said. “Green items tend to be things like fresh cut grass, green leaves, and those sorts of things that are more ‘alive.’ Brown items are things like straw, dried leaves and things like that. Sometimes folks will also put certain scraps from the house like coffee grounds, tea grounds, orange peels, banana peels — things like that can also go into the compost bin.”

Organisms called microbes break down the materials. When a compost heap is actively breaking down, the microbes that break down those products give off nitrogen and heat. A “live” compost pile can reach anywhere between 140 – 150 degrees Fahrenheit — what Carmichael calls a safe zone.

“They give off heat, and that’s what causes the compost pile to warm up,” Carmichael said. “Basically, we cook it in a sense. It can get relatively warm in those compost piles.”

Compost piles that exceed that safe zone can spontaneously combust. That’s why, Carmichael said, compost piles should be located away from homes and outbuildings.

“We have the likelihood of it to combust,” Carmichael said. “That’s why if it’s next to a building or something, it can cause it to ignite and burn up more than just itself.”

It’s not unusual for a live compost pile to give off steam or look like it’s smoldering.

“In my experience, it looks like it’s smoldering because the fire is inside and it’s protected,” Carmichael said. “You never really see the fire, but you might see more steam. In the winter when it’s actively going, it’s OK to see steam coming off of it.”

Carmichael said a good way to monitor the temperature of a compost pile is by purchasing a composting thermometer. These thermometers can be placed inside the pile, and will give homeowners an idea of how their compost is processing. Because compost piles can retain so much heat, Carmichael recommends a thermometer that is rated for 200 degrees or more.

He also recommends turning the compost pile at least once a month to make sure the pile’s heat is evenly distributed and properly maintained. Moisture is also important to the composting process, but not to the point of drenching the pile.

“Water is needed to keep the process going, but when I say water, we are not dousing it,” he said. “We are just keeping it moist. We should not be able to take a handful and squeeze the water out. If any water comes out, it should barely be a drip.”

Maintaining that moisture is especially important in dry conditions, even with the current freezing temperatures. When properly maintained, a compost pile shouldn’t spontaneously combust, but Carmichael said certain conditions and even different compost materials can react to each other differently.

“Some of those things combust differently, so if you’re not watching or keeping things level it can cause a problem,” he said. “If the items are off-balance, it could cause overheating and combustion.”

Carmichael said the easiest way for homeowners to deal with that is to make sure their layers of green and brown items are even. A good way to judge if the items are level is by smell.

“Compost should have an earthy smell to it,” he said. “If we’ve got more of a rotting grass smell, then we’re off balance. In a major growing season, I don’t think we have as much of a chance of combusting, but with it being colder, certain items aren’t breaking down as fast as others are. Generally, we’ve been a lot drier right now. In regular growing seasons, we have that water to help regulate that temperature, too.”

Carmichael said anyone with questions on compost maintenance or on how to get one started can stop by the Extension Office, located at 2632 W. U.S. Highway 50, call 341-3220 or email

Publications are also available online by visiting

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Pursuit of these ‘pass-along’ plants likely will encourage friendships to bloom, too

Some of the best plants in North Texas gardens are almost never sold in area garden centers. For generations the only way you could get them was to ask for a “start” from a friend, relative or neighbor who had them. They came to be known as “pass-along plants” and they were some of our most prized possessions as gardeners.

Nowadays that list is dominated by heirloom plants. Reseeding larkspurs are a great example. You’ll see them sprouting up in older neighborhoods amid reseeding petunias, old white flag iris, double Kwanso daylilies and other spring bloomers.

Larkspurs’ ferny foliage shows up with the first warm days of February, and the plants are covered in full blue, lavender, pink or white flowers just a few weeks later. If you see these and like them, ask that the gardener save some seeds for you. Keep them in the fridge over the summer, then sow them into a prepared garden bed this coming fall.

St. Joseph’s lily is my personal favorite example of a pass-along plant.

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I had commented on my radio program about how much I love that bulb that I’d always called “hardy amaryllis.” Steve Wilson, a friend, heard me on the air, and brought me a nice clump from his garden. That clump now has multiplied into maybe 200 plants in a bed in our landscape and I’ve shared them with friends as well. And all the while I don’t recall ever seeing it for sale in a nursery. I lost my friend several years ago, but his plants and his memory live on in my garden.

Oxblood lilies and fall crocus are two others of my favorite bulbs, but in their cases they’re fall-blooming types. It used to bug me that you would see them in old landscapes, often around abandoned houses, but you’d never see them offered for sale in local retail nurseries.

It actually took me awhile to nail down the botanical name of oxblood lilies (Rhodophiala bifida). That was back in the ’70s, and we had no online resources and very few books on Southern plants. Somehow I just never asked the right horticultural friends. Oxblood lilies are often called schoolhouse lilies because they bloom about the time school resumes in the fall. They look like tiny variations of amaryllis. They produce their flowers first, followed by foliage all fall and winter. Once you get a planting of this one going, you’ll be as fond of it as I am.

Fall crocus, also known as lilies-of-the-field (Sternbergia lutea), were a little easier to research. I’m in love with their bright yellow blooms. These bulbs are occasionally sold in nurseries now, but your better chances will come from online suppliers of rare bulbs. Or, of course, true to our story, asking for a start from a friend.

Those are plants that are fairly easily shared once you find them. Shrubs are more difficult, but I have those on today’s list as well. The ones I’ll include are all started from cuttings, so I’ll include them with the assumption that you can figure out a way to get them going if you decide you have to have them.

Italian jasmine (Jasminum humile) grew in front of our house when I was a kid in College Station. I’ve grown it in North Texas for the past 40 years. From all that experience I can tell you that I’ve never seen any insect or disease bother this plant, nor have I ever seen it hurt by winter cold. A little supplemental irrigation has brought all of mine through the worst of summers. In short, it’s just about indestructible.

It’s a great little arching shrub that grows to 4 or 5 feet tall and 5 or 6 feet wide. It has extremely dark, glossy green evergreen leaves and small yellow trumpet-shaped flowers each spring. It does well in sun or part shade. It’s a shame that you so rarely see it.

Dazzler holly was introduced back in the ’60s or ’70s and was reasonably common for about 20 years. Unfortunately, I suppose because its leaves have conspicuous spines, people shied away from it.

However, consider what they’ve missed. It grows to 4 to 5 feet tall and wide. That’s a really useful size for landscaping shrubs. Its leaves are large and boldly dark green, the perfect backdrop to its very large and bright red berries that it displays all winter. It really earned its name “Dazzler.” It grows fabulously in sun or shade. I have 20 or 30 of them in my landscape, yet there’s little reason for me to recommend it because no nursery sells it.

Glendora White crape myrtle is still my favorite white. It was introduced more than 50 years ago. It’s a selection of Lagerstroemia indica, which means it’s going to have slick gray trunks. Natchez and other hybrids of L. fauriei, by comparison, grow much more rapidly (which means the growers prefer it), and they have cinnamon-colored trunks that people like. But Glendora White has, in my opinion, better growth habits and tidier flower heads. It’s also more winter-hardy. But you’ll almost never see it in nurseries.

Oh, and just to have mentioned it, if you see Sarah’s Favorite White offered for sale, that’s a sister seedling of Natchez, and many of us who work with crape myrtles on a regular basis feel that it’s a superior selection.

Neil Sperry hosts “Texas Gardening” from 8 to 10 a.m. Sundays on WBAP/820 AM. Reach him during those hours at 800-288-9227. Online:

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Gardening: Tips on planting out your potted Christmas trees

It’s time to take down your Christmas tree, but if you have a potted conifer with roots, what do you do with it?

Luckily, here are five top tips from the plant experts Lubera if you plan to plant it out in your garden.

Compact Oriental spruce aurea. Picture: Lubera.

Compact Oriental spruce aurea. Picture: Lubera.

1. As always, right plant, right place is crucial.

Potted Christmas trees need to develop freely, without having to be constantly cut back, which will ruin its natural shape.

2. Find out the mature size of your potted tree.

Some conifers are massive and really aren’t suitable for a small or even average-sized garden – make sure you provide enough space.

Alberta spruce conica perfecta. Picture: Lubera.

Alberta spruce conica perfecta. Picture: Lubera.

Dwarf conifers don’t like a lot of competition – due to their low growth, they can disappear between other plants and get bare completely or on one side with lack of light and nutrients.

3. Dwarf coniferous plants, including the compactly growing Christmas trees, work best individually or in small groups with other slow-growing plants.

Columnar conifers are well suited in pairs for marking entrances.

4. Most conifers are undemanding, needing a sunny or partially shaded site, with neutral or slightly acidic soil.

They tolerate waterlogging poorly, so the soil must be well-drained, but not get too dry.

5. When planting, shake out the root ball, which makes it easier for roots to penetrate the new soil around it and anchor the tree into the soil.

Plant at the same level as in the pot.

For more information on how to plant out your Christmas tree in the garden, visit


l For more information, plus cook what you grow, recipes, environmental news and more, log on to (now smartphone friendly), follow me on Twitter @MandyCanUDigIt or you can like me on ny Facebook page at Mandycanudigit


Prune apple and pear trees – at least get rid of any branch that’s dead, damaged, diseased or rubbing on another one. Then spray your trees with winter wash or home-made garlic spray, which will kill insect eggs.

Mulch borders with leaf mould, compost, well rotted manure, or even old gro-bags, at least two inches thick.

Plant lily bulbs in pots and in borders during mild spells.

Cut off old leaves of hellebores that produce flowers from ground level so you can see them. Watch out for hellebore leaf spot.

Start cutting back grasses that have been left for winter structure – the winds will have battered them by now.

During dry, mild spells, you can still lift and divide herbaceous perennials.

Inspect stored tubers of dahlias and cannas. Too damp and they will rot, too dry and they will die.

Some pots outside under eaves or balconies may need watering. Keep them moist (not too wet), and don’t let them dry out.

Plant bare root deciduous hedging, trees and roses, staking before planting, so you don’t damage the root ball. Move deciduous trees and shrubs, if the ground is not frozen or waterlogged.

Indoor forced bulbs for Christmas displays, which have finished flowering, can be left outside in a sheltered spot, to die down.

In a cold snap, place floats on the surface of ponds to keep them from freezing over – this can be fatal for fish and pond life. To make a hole in frozen ponds, hold a saucepan of hot water on the surface until melted through. Do NOT crack the ice.

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Tips for taking down and recycling your old Christmas tree

WASHINGTON — WTOP Garden Editor Mike McGrath shares some tips for hauling out your old Christmas tree and how to recycle it in your garden. Plus, some helpful information if your cat likes to chew on houseplants.

Have an epiphany — and haul out that old tree

Are you having an epiphany? You should, as Saturday is traditionally celebrated as the Epiphany — the day the three kings arrived at the stable to pay tribute to the Baby Jesus. (They probably would have gotten there sooner if they had brought a queen along with them; no way are three men going to stop and ask for directions. And did one of them offer to change a diaper? We think not.)

Anyway, Jan. 6 is also the traditional date to take down all of your holiday decorations — but seeing as the weather is in the single digits, let’s say a Perfect Act of Contrition: leave the outside lights up and start taking down the tree instead.

Basting and tarping can prevent a wet mess

Begin by removing and packing up all of the ornaments; then the lights.

Now, you’ll need a turkey baster and a clean tarp or old sheet to finish the job.

Use the turkey baster to suck any leftover water out of the tree stand. Then put on protective gloves and gently lay the tree down sideways on the tarp.

Do not try and just carry the old tree outside on its own; even trees whose water needs have been exceptionally well met have a lot of needles ready to drop. Instead, place the undecorated tree sideways on a tarp or old bedsheet and carry it outside on that protective covering.

Make sure you have a helper to hold the doors open for you, and make sure you go through those doors butt-end first. (That’s the tree’s butt; not yours.) Otherwise, you’ll catch the skirt on the sides of the doorway and make a big mess.

Take the time to do it right and you won’t drop any of those hard-to-clean-up needles on the carpet.

Old tree = free mulch

OK — so you got the ornaments and lights off and didn’t make a mess because you carried your old cut Christmas tree outside on a tarp. Now what?

One excellent way to recycle a tree is to use a bow saw, loppers and/or hand pruners to remove all the branches and use them as a springy protective mulch.

Cut everything off close to the trunk so the pieces are big, then use these boughs to cover any overwintering pansies or spring bulb beds. Their natural springiness makes them great protection for the pansies. The sharpness of the needles will deter evil squirrels from digging up your tulips and prevent deer from easily getting at the emerging plants in the spring.

Or just spread the boughs around your azaleas and rhododendrons; they’re the perfect mulch for these shallow-rooted plants.

Now that’s what I call a bird feeder!

Here’s another recycling option for that cut Christmas tree: Carry it outside and stand it up in the backyard — preferably in a place where you can see it from your windows. Then hang lots of suet feeders on the top half of the tree.

Suet provides the high-energy food that over-wintering birds need — especially on these frigid days. The branches of the tree give the birds room to perch and easy access to that food. Those branches also provide excellent protection from predators. (Some of the birds may even build nests in the tree!)

Keep the feeders full of suet and enjoy the show over the winter — you’ll see dozens of birds every day. But stop filling the suet cages when things begin to green up in the spring. The birds will then naturally switch over to eating the bad bugs that will just then be coming out of their deep winter’s sleep — an excellent payback for your thoughtful protection.

Pineapple-loving cat

Irene in Frederick writes: “Can you tell me if the leaves of a pineapple plant are toxic to cats? I have two kitties that love to chew on the leaves.”

Ah yes, the fun houseplant: you save the top of a pineapple, position it in water or wet soil, and with any luck it’ll grow a cute little baby pineapple up top. Lots of fun.

Anyway, the leaves of a pineapple plant aren’t toxic, but they are sharp and tough enough to cause some mouth damage. And they could contain substances like silica that, although technically not poisonous, can be mildly irritating to the stomach.

So move that plant to a more difficult-to-reach location and replace it with a plate or planter of cat grass. Available at any pet store, these grasses are fast-growing, soft and juicy, and satisfy cats’ need to chew on plants every once in a while.

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