Marianne Binetti

The old Christmas tree can be put to work in the garden

As December comes to an end, check for falling needles from your Christmas tree. That's the sign to get your tree outdoors and recycled. You can lop off evergreen boughs and put them to work in the garden.

Use fir and cedar branches to work as a protective covering over any tender outdoor plants. Put the tree through a chipper and add to the compost pile.

Here’s a reminder to remove every last bit of tinsel before you recycle your tree. One summer I dug into my rich, dark organic compost and up came a long, silver strand of holiday tinsel. This episode happened on live TV – shiny and bright does not add sparkle to your compost.

So what if you don’t use a freshly cut Christmas tree and have no evergreen boughs to recycle? It took me years to figure out the natural benefits of winter windstorms. Mother Nature conveniently drops evergreen branches onto the ground throughout the winter season so that the fallen material can be used as winter mulch. Pile them on top of perennials, layer them over the bare soil of your vegetable garden, use fallen branches to cover a compost pile.

Cleaning up after a wind storm is a great way to treat cabin fever, and getting outdoors in January is the path to winter dreaming and scheming.

In keeping with the theme of New Year’s resolutions, here are five things I promise to do and five things I promise not to do in my garden this year:


1. I won’t let all the volunteer plants take over my garden beds.

I already have hundreds of cute hellebore seedlings sprouting up. This year, I will toughen up, pluck most of the baby plants and stop the crowding and competition for valuable real estate.

2. I will not worry about the moss in my lawn.

It has been a very wet winter. Not only does this make the soil moist for moss, but it also makes the soil more acidic – I shall expect and accept a mossy lawn. Moss is evergreen, soft, and never needs mowing. What’s not to like?

3. I will not add any more broken pots to my garden.

I already have broken pots making a border around a bed, broken pots helping to hold up a raised bed and broken pots used as a mulch. Enough.

4. I will plant no more orange flowers around my patio.

My obsession with orange flowers might be waning. There are other colors out there to warm up the patio. Time to stop playing favorites with the color wheel.

5. I will never again complain about the rotting wooden fence that divides our front from our backyard. This is because that rotting fence is gone – replaced by a beautiful brick wall that has openings like windows that frame the backyard view. I blame visits to Europe for my obsession with brick walls. More about this later.


1. I will dig out the spreading mass of Lady’s Mantle in my front yard. This lady has become a tramp, hopping out of her bed and into everyone else’s – uninvited. I may need heavy machinery to dig out the roots, but I have a dream of a fresh start.

2. I will landscape the new garden space in front of my new brick wall – without blocking the entire wall. I need to follow my own advice and not overplant every bed.

3. I will decide on which clematis I want to grow up my three new trellises. For a year I’ve had empty trellises – they seemed too new and clean to cover with clematis. I ordered these trellises online ( because they are made of rot-proof plastic composite and not wood. (The rotting wood fence taught me a lesson.) I am so happy about the instant vertical structure these free-standing trellises add to my blue-and-yellow theme garden that I never got around to deciding on the perfect vines for these structures. A visit to the island of Guernsey has inspired me. More about this later.

4. I will prune the twisty, tangled and overly dramatic branches on my contorted filbert tree. This unusual specimen tree sits just outside my library window. It is getting a bit full of itself and blocking too much light. I hate removing limbs from such a beauty – but it must be done.

5. Finally, not a garden goal but related to the garden. I will update my Web page, Facebook, speaker’s calendar and link all my social media so that this column, my blog on and the Ask The Expert site on are all easier to access.

You’ll be able to see photos of the new garden in front of the brick wall, get almost instant answers to your garden questions and browse the details of my speaking engagements as they will be posted on a new website called www.Great But it all starts with this weekly column ... so stay tuned to your newspaper in 2011, it’s the best source for local, current and expandable gardening information.

Marianne Binetti is the author of “Easy Answers for Great Gardens” and eight other gardening books. She has a degree in horticulture from WSU and will answer questions from her Web site at