The holiday tree that keeps on giving all year
Think truly green when choosing a live Christmas tree this year with these tips from the Florida Botanical Gardens in Largo: Purchase a native Florida evergreen and plant it after the season. Good choices include the eastern red cedar (Juniperus virginiana), Dahoon Holly (Ilex cassine) and the "Little Gem" cultivar of the Southern magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora). For cut trees, choose one from a Florida grower (you'll find a list at www.flchristmastrees.com) to support the state's economy and reduce emissions. Support local charities by shopping at the tree stands they sponsor. When the holidays are over, many communities offer curbside recycling to process trees into free mulch for residents. Consult your local community for collection days and times.
A veggie match made in heaven
Put nature to work in your vegetable garden by pairing plants that benefit each other, which is known as "companion planting". According to the experts at growveg.com, basil or marigolds next to tomatoes ward off whitefly, nasturtiums lure aphids away from beans while leeks and onions scare off slugs and prevent mold on strawberries. Simply planting strong-smelling plants near pest-sensitive veggies will confuse many bugs and keep them at bay. Likewise, bright flowers near crops will attract good bugs such as bees, ladybugs and lacewings. Visit www.growveg.com for more tips and online tools for backyard vegetable gardening.
Firing up your soil's pH level
If you're burning wood in an outdoor stove or fireplace this year, you can recycle the wood ashes in your garden to raise soil pH, recommends the National Gardening Association. Wood ashes are a good soil conditioner high in potassium and other minerals. On a calm day, work them into your soil at the rate of 20 pounds ash per 1,000 square feet of garden, the group recommends. Don't use ash from coal, painted or stained wood or from cardboard. Don't have 20 pounds on hand, like folks up north? Work ashes into garden beds throughout the short winter season or add to your compost pile.
Yvonne Swanson, Times correspondent