Evergreens not just for Christmas

11/18/2011 5:00 AM

11/19/2011 6:24 AM

Jodi Gieser is a master gardener who uses real evergreens in decorating, and not just for Christmas. She put together some Thanksgiving swags and a centerpiece for a recent lunchtime lecture at Botanica. As she told me, “Evergreen is with us 12 months out of the year.”

Evergreens are with us year-round because they never drop their leaves. Because of that, they continue to lose moisture through their foliage, even in the winter. And that’s why it’s important to keep evergreens watered throughout the year, including winter.

Jodi recommends cutting fronds of evergreen from full trees or shrubs from your own property or a friend’s with permission, or a sample from nice and full cedars in roadside hedgerows in the country.

It’s a special challenge to keep evergreens looking good indoors, because when used in garlands and centerpieces, they often are not in water. But Jodi plumps them up with moisture before leaving them to the ravages of central heat: She mashes the stems and puts them in a bucket of water overnight. Then she sprays the boughs with the anti-desiccant Wilt-Pruf, available at garden centers.

Jodi also uses ornamental grasses in arrangements, and that sounds particularly pretty for Thanksgiving.

“Any of the grasses work really well,” she said. “You can also take a bundle of them and tie them and use them kind of cornstalk-style.”

That gives Jodi the idea for a three-sisters-garden centerpiece that would be ideal for Thanksgiving. The Indians taught the pilgrims how to plant three-sisters-style: corn in the middle, then beans around the edges to climb the corn, then squash or pumpkins around the beans to act as a weed-smothering ground cover. Jodi envisions a shock of ornamental grasses in the middle of a Thanksgiving table surrounded by gourds or little squash and then some pinto or white beans — or whatever color bean matches the decor — sprinkled around the squash.

Unfortunately, not all ornamental grasses fared well in the hot summer, so you may have to hunt carefully for some good specimen.

Robin Dresma, a research assistant at the Olathe Horticulture Research and Extension Center, has reported on the ornamental grass trials there. Most of the grasses are in their fourth season and, planted in full sun, did not receive any supplemental water during the summer.

Grasses that did not do well:

•  Several Miscanthus sinensis cultivars. The commonly used Gracillimus did not put out any flowers, and much of the foliage browned prematurely. Miscanthus sinensis Strictus, or Porcupine grass, was much shorter than usual this year, did not flower and was pretty unsightly overall. Miscanthus sinensis Little Zebra also seemed especially susceptible to heat stress.
•  The perennial fountain grasses were quick to turn brown. Some didn’t even bloom, including Pennisetum alopecuroides National Arboretum.

“This is usually a very vigorous grass that would be overcrowding the plot and covered in fuzzy seedheads. It will be interesting to see how it overwinters after such a disappointing year.”

Grasses that look good:

•  Miscanthus sinensis Adagio and Yaku Jima.
•  Most of the switchgrass cultivars (Panicum virgatum).

Robin goes on to add that there has been some reseeding of switchgrass cultivars — something to keep in mind when choosing ornamental grasses.

I can’t imagine winter without evergreens or the rustle and waving of ornamental grasses.

There are some seminars coming up where you can make fresh evergreen wreaths and containers for the porch.

Johnson’s Garden Center will have wreath-making seminars at 10 a.m. Nov. 26 and Dec. 3 and at 2:30 p.m. Nov. 27 and Dec. 4, at all locations. Cost of $15 includes ring and mixed greens. Johnson’s will offer holiday porch pot seminars at 2 p.m. Nov. 26 and Dec. 3 at all locations. The cost of $30 includes mixed greens, berries, pinecones and a pot. To register, call the location where you will attend: 6225 E. Shadybrook (21st and Woodlawn), 316-687-5451; 2707 W. 13th St., 316-942-1443; or 802 N. Ridge Road, 316-943-0494.

The how-to portion of the holiday-pots seminar also will be offered as a lunchtime lecture at Botanica on Nov. 30. The lecture, at 12:15 p.m., is included in Botanica admission. (This will not include the hands-on portion.)

About Annie Calovich

Annie writes about home and garden, including her Bit of Earth column on Saturdays. She has been at The Eagle since 1985, working as a copy editor, a nation/world editor and a reporter. She’s a KU graduate who started out at The Coffeyville Journal.

Contact Annie at 316-268-6596 or acalovich@wichitaeagle.com

Follow Annie on Twitter: @AnnieCalovich

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