Metro-East Living

Do this and your greenery will stay fresh and safe indoors

Q. We have a number of evergreen trees and shrubs and would like to cut them for indoor Christmas decorations. Give us some help on choosing which ones work the best and is there any way to make them fire-proof?

M.K. of Collinsville

A. Some of the best evergreens to cut for indoor decorations are balsam and Douglas firs, yews, hollies, boxwood and junipers.

Pine branches are attractive in indoor decorations, but this is not the correct time to prune them (which is in late spring when the “candles” have grown out — they help to thicken the number of new branches that develop). But you can prune any branches that are inconspicuous and won’t be noticed if pruned.

Hemlocks and spruce tend to drop their needles quickly and should be avoided for indoor use. Barberry, English ivy, rhododendron and seed pods dried from magnolias add additional color. Don’t forget to use any dropped cones, seedpods and colorful berries.

To make these cuttings last longer and not be a fire hazard as they age and dry, you should not place them near fireplaces, heat ducts, televisions, candles and other sources of heat and flame.

Place the cut ends of the branches in a 50-50 water/lemon-lime soda solution. This will help the conductive tissue of the plants remain open for the uptake of the watery solution. It will also slow the growth of bacteria.

You can also make a homemade flame retardant by combining four tablespoons of boric acid and nine tablespoons of borax with two quarts of water. Spray on the foliage with a quart spray bottle.

A different recipe calls for five tablespoon of borax and four tablespoons of Epsom salts to a quart of water. These retardants are not foolproof, especially when the branches and needles and leaves become dry and brittle.

Q. When does one add additional soil or other type of covering of mulch to protect roses during the winter?

L. H. of Belleville

A. Now that the weather is starting to get cold and ground will begin freezing (usually in very late November and December), you would want to add at least a 12-inch mound of soil or mulch around the base of the rose bush to insulate the graft union. If you add this covering too early, the roses will not go dormant and continue to hold leaves and freeze and prevent the rose bush from going dormant.

Q. We have friends which are very good gardeners and always want to select their own plants. Any ideas for Christmas gifts?

D. S. of O’Fallon

A. Hand tools such as hand pruners or long-handle loppers, hand trowels, bulb drills and gardening books (once you find out what type of plants are their favorites) make good gifts. A gift certificate to a garden center, greenhouse or seed catalog would be appreciated, too. There’s always a gift certificate to the Missouri Botanical Garden as it can also be used in certain other U.S. botanical gardens.

Things to do this week:

Check your soil for moisture and if the area is on the dry side, apply water just before you put the hose away.

Charles Giedeman is a local contributing writer. Send your gardening questions to Suzanne Boyle, Belleville News-Democrat, P.O. Box 427, 120 S. Illinois St., Belleville, IL 62222-0427, or email them to