Maybe because I’ve been collecting addresses of high-tech Christmas displays and writing about some of them, I’ve been touched as I drive around town at night, seeing the more humble but still sparkling lights down most every street.
The lights extravagantly cut through the darkness – becoming increasingly more important as the nights get successively longer. The longest night of the year comes Sunday with the winter solstice. It occurs at 5:03 p.m. Central Standard Time, when the North Pole is tilted farthest – 23.5 degrees – away from the sun. How wonderful and fantastic that Christmas comes just as the days once again start to lengthen – and when the North Pole is at its busiest.
Some of us feel the effects of these low-light days, and some of us don’t, but we need only look at our houseplants for signs. This is usually the time of year they start dropping leaves.
“Not only is the day length shorter, but the angle of the sun means sunlight must travel through more atmosphere before it reaches us in the northern latitudes,” horticulturist Ward Upham of K-State writes in the Horticulture 2014 newsletter. “Each of these factors means less light energy reaches our houseplants.”
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And that means stress, which the plants show by a lack of growth and dropped leaves from throughout the plant, resulting in a general thinning, Upham says. (I wish my stress levels caused me a certain lack of growth, a general thinning.)
So what can we do? Upham says we can hit the tanning beds – er, he says that we can give the plants supplemental lighting. (Full-spectrum bulbs in all our lamps would probably help us humans too.)
But longer days and higher light levels – which start coming back Monday – will allow the plants to recover, Upham says. The key is to let the normal recovery occur without overdosing the plants on fertilizer or water in a misguided attempt to perk them up. Kind of like I think another piece of Christmas fudge might be the thing to make me feel better.
“Remember the problem is low light, not a lack of fertilizer or water,” Upham writes. “The needs of the plant need to be balanced.” Ah, the miracle of balance.
“If there is plenty of sunlight, the plant can use more water and fertilizer. Under low light levels, the plant doesn’t require much fertilizer, and the nutrients stay in the soil where they can build up and may eventually burn roots.”
Too much water also can drown roots, he says. So only water when the soil is dry 1/2 inch deep. Eventually you can simply lift a pot and tell by its weight whether it needs water. And you can simply leave off fertilizing over the winter.
“If the plant still looks thin in the spring, cut it back so it can put out new, thicker growth,” Upham writes. “Also, knock the plant out of the pot in the spring and make sure it isn't root-bound. If it is, move it up to a larger pot.”
Won’t it be fun to get there? I’m always amazed at the corner that is turned from recovering from one summer to looking forward to the next. It occurs just about now. And it is just about now this unusual fall/winter that the leaves have finally fallen off the trees around my house, opening up new views of the neighborhood – and of more Christmas lights.
As far as I’m concerned, the lights can stay on all day too – especially when the day is gray, and if there’s snow for them to glow through.
And I’m even more grateful to the people who keep their lights up through New Year’s Day – and, even better, through the 12 days of Christmas, ending Jan. 6. What else do we have to look at – the darkness, even as it grows shorter?
Check out the list of the notable outdoor displays that readers have told us about, accompanying this column and online at Kansas.com. Botanica’s Illuminations also will be continuing through Dec. 31, nightly from 5:30 to 8:30 except Christmas Eve and Christmas.
Stars, keep the watch
When night is dim,
One more light the bowl shall brim
Shining beyond the frosty weather
Bright as sun and moon together
People, look east and sing today
Love, the star, is on the way.
— From the carol “People, Look East.”
Notable Christmas displays
Here are the Christmas lights displays that readers recommend checking out:
1122 N. Lawrence Court; dark to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, dark to 10:30 or 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday depending on traffic
3805 E. Longview Lane (Lights on Longview Lane); 6 p.m. to midnight daily
143 E. Fourth, Goddard (Magic of Christmas); 6 to 10 p.m. daily, weather permitting
4620 S. Sycamore (Lights on Sycamore)
261 N. Robin Road
1812 S. Millwood; 6 to 10 p.m. daily; tune to 97.3 FM on the radio
6726 W. Ocieo; 5:30 p.m. to 6 a.m. through Dec. 31; tune to 106.9 FM on the radio
6529 W. Ocieo
5336 S. Gold; 6 to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, 6 p.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday; tune to 99.5 FM on the radio; lightsongold.com
3231 N. Lake Ridge Court; lights synchronized to music
2 West Parkway
620 N. Stratford (Marshall Family Christmas Lights); through Jan. 6
206 S. Miller, Potwin
12602 E. Osie St.
1462 N. Coolidge
740 N. Sheridan
100 block North Pershing
5726 E. Perryton, Bel Aire
820 S. James, Maize
821 Opal, Maize
Mere Ridge, northeast corner of Ridge Road and West 21st Street
114 and 201 S. Coachhouse, and turning into Texas Street
Candy Cane Lane, 1000 block of North Azure Circle
1602 W. Browning, Andover
43 N. Mission, Eastborough
14310 E. Castle Drive
5079 SW Fulton Road, Towanda (“Lights of Kindness”)
10813 SW Tawakoni Road, Augusta
12601 W. 71st St. South, Clearwater
2529 N. High Point Circle, on Candy Cane Lane in Reflection Ridge