Just because the weather makes you want to curl up on the couch doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty to do this time of year.
• Start holiday baking a few weeks ahead of time. This can be important for some cakes, which need time to rest and ripen. For slice and bake cookies, make icebox cookie dough, shape it into logs and freeze it.
• Keep a healthy Christmas tree. A live tree should be fragrant and sticky, not dry and brittle. When you get your tree home, make a new cut in the trunk several inches from the bottom, and then place the tree in a bucket of water. Check the tree’s water level daily, replenishing when it gets low.
• To keep a live, uncut evergreen inside for up to 10 days, put the burlap-covered root-ball in a pot or bucket; water and mist greenery everyday. Acclimate it to the outdoors by moving it to a temperate shelter, such as a garage; water as above. After a few weeks, bring it outside, cover the rootball with mulch, water sparingly and plant after the ground thaws.
• Wrap gifts as you bring them home. If you have space, create a wrapping station that you can leave in place throughout the season.
• Stock your stain-fighting kit. This time of year is particularly perilous for tablecloths and other household fabrics.
• Either before or after the holidays, have your carpets and rugs professionally cleaned. To keep carpets in shape, have them cleaned about once a year.
• When the fireplace isn’t in use, keep the damper closed.
• A humidifier in rooms with wood floors will ensure that the wood doesn’t crack in the season’s low humidity. Replace humidifier filters once a month to keep bacteria from being recycled.
• Tiny envelopes of seeds saved from your garden are a lovely gift to enclose in your holiday cards. Just be sure to label them.
• Take stock of tools. Clean, sharpen and repair them. If you find one that needs replacing, this is a good time to let your family know.
• If you haven’t cleaned those gutters, now is the time.
• Turn your compost pile at least once a month to ensure even composition. Continue to add discarded fruit and vegetable matter, eggshells and coffee or tea grounds to the pile. Keep moderately moist to speed up the process. Clean up around the garden, removing leftover fruit and weeds.
• Stock your car’s trunk for winter-weather emergencies. Include a compact shovel, ice scraper, flashlight, sand or cat litter, flares, a heavy blanket and clothing.
• Create outdoor light displays that are beautiful and safe. Use lights that are made specifically for outdoor use. Replace burned out bulbs with new ones that are compatible with the wattage rating on the existing strand, and plug in the light with heavy-duty exterior-use extension cords. Use timers on your display.
• Remove leaves that have fallen on small plants. If left on the plant, the leaves could smother them.
• Clean bird feeders about once a month to maintain a healthy environment for your feathered friends. Scrape out residue with a spatula or paint stirrer. Wash feeders in hot, soapy water with a small amount of bleach (about one cupful per bucket) as a disinfectant.
Susan Woody has been a home and garden writer for more than 20 years and is a master gardener.