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Old Christmas trees are for the birds

QChristmas is here, the tree is beautiful, but I am already dreading disposing of it — such a mess and hassle. Do you have any ideas besides burning or composting?

APush your tree into the ground, if possible, or into a snow bank or freeze in a bucket of water to keep it upright. Trim it with goodies for the birds like strung popcorn, peanut-suet balls, orange peel halves filled with sunflower seeds, etc. The birds (and you) will enjoy the tree all winter long. If we get a January thaw and your tree falls over — no big deal. Put it back up again when the cold weather returns.

Q We have a beautiful white poinsettia we bought a couple of weeks ago at the florist. Each day the past week, it looses a leaf or two. At this rate, the plant will have no leaves by Christmas. What might be causing this?

AA cold draft is likely causing this problem. It is often tempting to place a poinsettia in a front foyer or entry area as an attractive greeting. However, each time the front door opens and allows the cold air to drift over a poinsettia, leaf loss is a likely result. Even moving the plant now may not correct the problem as it may already be too late, but I would give it a try anyway.

QI tried drying basil leaves this fall. After drying, we put them in a glass jar. They got all white and fuzzy and we threw them away. What did we do wrong?

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AYour basil leaves were not dried sufficiently. Before the plant flowers, cut the stems 4 to 5 inches long. Tie the branches together and rinse with cold water, shake dry and hang in a well-ventilated room to dry. They should be very brittle in a few weeks. Store in an air-tight jar. These leaves can be frozen, too. After rinsing, dry enough so beads of water have disappeared and place on a cookie sheet and freeze. When frozen, store in a jar or freezer container and use as needed.

QI love caladiums and we have several in containers that we enjoy on our shady deck all summer. However, I am having trouble getting them to survive now in the house. What should I do?

AOne good method would be to bare-root them in the fall and store them in dry peat moss at 45 to 50 degrees, repotting them again in March, watering sparingly until new growth appears. You could also follow the same procedure but just leave the bulbs in the pot, letting it dry out completely in the fall, storing until March when you should start watering and wait for new growth to appear.

Keith Stangler of Byron is a horticulturist. If you have a question for him, e-mail it to lifestyle@postbulletin.com.

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