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Tree Toppers add life to outdoor containers

Fresh tree toppers are added into some commercial settings in Fargo for the holidays, as seen Nov. 3.

John Zvirovski, Sun Garden Editor

As the holidays draw closer, we find ourselves getting ready for all the festive events within the next six weeks. This year our planning will be exceptionally crucial as Thanksgiving occurs fairly late in the season, only allowing a little over three weeks before Christmas arrives. I know if I don’t get things done in advance, everything becomes rushed and before I know it, I feel like I have missed the holidays!

As with anything, a little advanced planning before the holidays will allow you more quality time to spend with friends and family. Nothing causes more stress during this time of year than always feeling behind and missing the fun times.

Outdoor decorating always should be done before the extreme cold weather moves in. Some neighbors may find you a bit hasty trying to get all the Christmas decorations up before Thanksgiving even arrives, as they will say you are missing out on an important holiday because you are involved with the December decorations. Trust me, if you try putting the lights on the house when the wind is howling and the temperature is around 10 degrees, with a minus 20 wind chill, you will not have nearly the same festive spirit as you thought you once obtained. Nobody is saying you have to turn them on until after Thanksgiving has passed, but we can receive some pretty brutal weather early in the season, so getting them strung early is important.

Outdoor decorating can be a bit different than decorating inside your home. Inside you can use fresh greens, cut flowers and berries, live poinsettias, Christmas cactus and amaryllis. Outside we tend to use more artificial garland, wreaths and swags to reuse from year to year. However, many people also use fresh greens outdoors as they tend to last longer in the cold air without dropping their needles and turning brown quickly. Fresh greens inside must always be watered to stay fresh so they do not become a fire hazard or drop needles all over the floors.

Since the 1990s, a common trend has been to purchase tree toppers or spruce tips to decorate outdoor window boxes and containers. It seems like a new concept to many of us, but it was once big in the 1930s before it faded and then made a return in the 1960s. In the ‘70s and ‘80s it lost its flair once again only to make a comeback in the last couple of decades.

Tree toppers usually come from the black spruce variety in northern Minnesota. Most spruce tops that are harvested are sold within the tri-state area and either come from private land or from land owned by the Department of Natural Resources. There are many regulations that have to be followed in order to make it a sustainable crop without causing damage to the areas in which they grow. Oftentimes these tops are harvested in the northern bog regions where the spruce are thick and the need to thin is essential in order to maintain healthy stands. Only one-third of the stands can be harvested during the harvest season, which is usually October and November.

Toppers are usually in the range of 2 to 5 feet in height and up to a foot and a half wide. They usually come in bunches of five to 10 and look great when arranged together with taller ones in the center and shorter ones along the outside to give the arrangement a conical form.

Since the soil in the containers and in the ground is still fairly pliable, it is a good time to get them pushed into the dirt before freeze-up. Make sure to give each topper a fresh cut at the base before inserting it into the soil and once arranged, water them in well until the soil freezes. This will ensure the greens  last throughout the holiday season without dropping their needles. If cold weather does not arrive, spray your toppers with an anti-desiccant spray such as White Cloud, to preserve the moisture in the greens during dry windy days.

With your treetops it is also nice to include cedar, balsam fir and white pine boughs into the mix for additional texture and grace. Add some cones, bows, berries and lights, and you will have a festive display ‘til after New Year’s. Prior to the Christmas season, you can always add artificial-colored leaves, gourds, mini pumpkins and cones to give your topper arrangements a Thanksgiving flair that can be changed out in December. It is always best to make your decorations work for both holidays as it takes less time and money.

Since many of these greens stay nice after the holidays due to the cold and damp air, use white lights that can be lit throughout the winter after the Christmas embellishments have been removed. Decorating for the holidays doesn’t have to end on the first of January if you do it correctly … sometimes winter decorations can go for months if done properly.

Try a few greens or toppers this season to decorate your outdoors. It is amazing how some fresh greenery in your containers can add a little life to the frigid outdoors in our region. The garden doesn’t have to look barren in the winter, just be creative and you may find that even the urns and other planters in the yard can liven up a bit.