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“Nature has many scenes to exhibit, and constantly draws a curtain over this part or that. She is constantly repainting the landscape and all surfaces, dressing up some scene for our entertainment. Lately we had a leafy wilderness; now bare twigs begin to prevail, and soon she will surprise us with a mantle of snow. Some green she thinks so good for our eyes that, like blue, she never banishes it entirely from our eyes, but has created evergreens.” — Henry David Thoreau, Nov. 8, 1858

As you may know, I use a light sprinkling of wood ashes on my lawn and gardens during the winter. I have done a soil test and my soil is on the acidic side, so wood ashes can help solve that problem. However, lately I have been rethinking the use of wood ashes. I know I need the potash, but the ashes contain a little phosphate, so now I prefer to use it on just the gardens. Another alternative is to mix them in the compost pile since compost is very acidic and the ashes will help neutralize it.

Keep an eye out for insects on your houseplants; rinse the leaves over the sink when you water your plants. Those critters can lay about 200 eggs per day and it gets ugly fast.

Does your skin get itchy and dry during the winter due to dry heat? Your houseplants like it even less. They actually prefer a relative humidity of 40 to 50 percent, but suffer under humidity of 10 to 20 percent. Grouping plants together helps a lot since water evaporating from the soil and leafs will increase the humidity around the plants. Misting is not an effective way to raise the humidity; the foliage dries too quickly.

It is fun to decorate for Christmas as long as you don’t think about un-decorating in January. Some of our traditions date back to pre-Christian times. Holly, ivy and other greenery such as mistletoe were originally used to help celebrate the winter solstice festival and ward off evil spirits. In my research on plants, there must have been a lot of evil spirits hanging around in those days. When Christianity came to Western Europe, people wanted to keep the greenery and give it a Christian meaning, but also to continue to decorate their homes.

  • Holly represented the crown of thorns and the berries represented drops of blood.
  • Ivy has to cling to something to support it as it grows. It is supposed to remind us to cling to our Christian beliefs to support our lives. In Germany, holly was only used outside a church door to protect it from lightning.
  • Laurel symbolizes the victory of God over the devil.
  • Fir and yew trees are evergreen, signifying everlasting life.

Wreaths have a long tradition, not necessarily for Christians, but they were signs of victory for Roman soldiers. Rich Romans wore them as headdresses and they were also given to winners at the Olympic Games in Greece. In modern times, wreaths started out as kissing boughs or Advent wreaths.

But the most well-known use of wreaths comes in connection with Christmas. Their circular shape symbolizes eternal life and the unending love of God. An Advent wreath is a custom started in the 16th century. It’s meant to hold four candles. The first candle is lit the first week of Advent. It symbolizes hope. The second week’s candle, also called the Bethlehem candle, is love. The third week’s candle is for joy, and the fourth or angel candle is for peace. Sometimes people use a fifth candle on Christmas Eve to symbolize the light of Christ.

When should you take down your Christmas greenery? Traditionally it is taken down after the Twelfth Night which is Jan. 5, but during the Middle Ages greenery was often left until Candlemas in early February.

The 2019 Phenology Calendars are now available in the Sauk County Extension Office for $15. Phenology is the study of seasonal events in nature such as when robins return or when goldenrods bloom. To reserve a copy, call 608-355-3250 or email

Contact Phyllis Both by email at or by telephone on Monday mornings at the Sauk County University of Wisconsin-Extension office, 608-355-3253.