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Gardener's almanac

Picking out a Christmas tree that's not crispy — My sister and I are going to go to a Christmas tree farm this weekend to pick out a tree for her house. Can't wait! She likes to hold back on the decorating until really close to Christmas (Christmas Eve if she had her way), so going to a tree farm will ensure the tree is totally fresh.

If you're shopping for a tree that has already been cut, be wary of trees that have any of these characteristics:

* Needles are a dull, grayish-green color.

* Needles fail to ooze pitch when broken apart and squeezed.

* Needles feel stiff and brittle.

* Needles pull off tree easily.

Once you have your tree home, recut the trunk about 1 inch above the original cut. This will open up clogged, water-conducting tissues. Immediately place the trunk in warm water.

Last night for Illuminations — Tonight's your last chance to catch Botanica ablaze in light for the holidays. It's a wonderful sight, lights in the darkness. And what lights. There's the meadow light and sound display, the gift shop, fresh greenery arrangements and poinsettias to buy, Santa to visit, and warm drinks and holiday treats. Tickets are $7 for adults ($6 for Botanica members) and $3 for children ages 2 to 12. They can be purchased in advance at all area QuikTrip stores or at Botanica. Members must buy their tickets at Botanica to receive their discount.

Drainage problems? —"Winter is often a good time to fix areas in the garden where water sits and does not drain properly," Ward Upham of K-State says. "Such areas often harm plant roots due to poor oxygen levels in the soil. Consider adding good topsoil so water doesn't sit. Be sure to till or spade the area to mix the new topsoil and the underlying existing soil. Plant roots do not like to cross distinct barriers caused by one type of soil sitting on top of another.

"Internal drainage can be improved by adding organic matter such as peat moss or compost. This can be done by adding a 2- to 4-inch layer of organic matter to the surface of the soil and tilling or spading in as deeply as possible."

As the compost pile turns — Compost piles should be turned about once a month even during the winter, Upham says. "This will ensure the composting process continues and that all materials are equally composted," he says. "A compost pile is 'turned' when uncomposted material is moved from the sides and tops of the pile to the center where it provides 'fuel' for the microorganisms that break it down.

"Water may need to be added if the material you move to the center is dry. Check the moisture content by squeezing a fistful in your hand. It should feel moist, but no excess water should drip out. Compress the material as best you can as excess air can slow the composting process."

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