Christmas trees: If you had a live Christmas tree and are disposing of it, you may want to cut off some boughs to use as winter protection for broad-leaf evergreens such as rhododendrons, small boxwoods or mountain laurels, or semi-evergreen perennials like Heuchera (coral bells) or hellebores. Don’t place the boughs directly on top of the plants; form them into a tepee-like structure with the tops either tied together or interwoven. This helps protect the plants from winter wind and sun exposure, especially in a winter like this with some very cold temperatures and little snow cover. For the hellebores, since they bloom very early in spring, you should start checking in mid-March to see if new growth has started. If it has, take the boughs off. Discarded wreaths, swags and garland may also be suitable as winter protection if supported with a branch or stake framework. Evergreen needles are also great soil amendments for loosening up heavy clay soils. If you can, save the discarded boughs, wreaths and roping outdoors till spring when the needles will have all dropped off. You can mix the needles with dried leaves, rice hulls and other organic amendments to improve soils.
Bulbs: You may have received or purchased some flower bulbs over the holidays. Pre-cooled paperwhite narcissus and hyacinth bulbs will root into water if suspended just above the surface of the water. Once rooted, they should produce flowers and leaves. Many garden centers sell vases that are designed just for these types of bulbs, or you can plant the bulbs in potting soil that drains well. Keep the bulbs cool — around 55 to 65 degrees to keep them blooming longer. Bulbs that have not been pre-cooled, that are normally planted in fall, such as tulips, daffodils, crocus and hyacinth will need to be “forced” to bloom in early spring. Tulips and daffodils can be forced into bloom after about 13 weeks in a refrigerator at 35 to 38 degrees. They should not be allowed to be stored near any spoiling fruit or vegetables as the ethylene gas these materials produce can stunt the bulbs’ stalks and flowers. Pot them up before refrigeration for best results. If you’d like to keep and plant the tulips, daffodils and hyacinth bulbs and plant them out in your garden, wait till they finish blooming, cut off the dead flower stalk and keep the plants watered and fertilized like a normal houseplant until you can plant them outside. Amaryllis bulbs, which are not winter hardy here, can be potted up right away indoors and watered in. Within a week or so, the flower stalk should begin to appear and blooming should begin a couple weeks later. Leaves will be produced during bloom or shortly after the flowers die. Leaves should be allowed to expand and mature on the plant without being removed until they turn brown several months later.