Dear Martha: I'd like to decorate a live tree in my home. How should I care for it?
A: A live Christmas tree is a wonderful way to enhance your holiday decor as well as your landscaping. Even if a cut tree is the focal point of your Christmas celebration, smaller live ones can provide additional charm.
In order for a tree to survive an indoor stay and subsequent replanting, some special care is required. This time of year, Christmas trees often can be found at local nurseries. The specimens sold there are probably hardy enough for your climate, but it's best to confirm this with the nursery's staff, a cooperative extension service or a gardening reference book.
The tree's roots will be surrounded by a ball of soil, usually covered in burlap. Without removing the burlap, place the tree in a large, sturdy pot or bucket. Keep the tree in an unheated but sheltered place, such as a porch, until you're ready to bring it inside, and check it daily to see if it needs watering. The roots should be damp at all times but not flooded. When you move the tree into your home, continue to water it as needed, and mist the greenery to prevent it from drying out. For best results, a live tree should remain indoors for no more than 10 days, although a shorter stay is better. Maintain a relatively low temperature in your house, and keep the tree away from heat sources, including decorative lights, unless they are specifically designed to stay cool.
If the ground outside your house isn't frozen, prepare the hole now. It should be as deep as the root ball and twice as wide (for a 4- to 5-foot-tall tree, plan for a root ball 2 feet in diameter). Fill the hole with loose, dry leaves, and cover it with a tarp; store the excavated soil where it won't freeze. This way, you'll be able to plant the tree whenever you're ready.
But don't shock the tree by moving it directly from the house into the cold ground. First, transfer it to an unheated, sheltered spot for a few days. Then plant the tree so that the top of the root ball is level with the soil surface, peel back the burlap and refill the hole with the excavated soil. Mulch generously to prevent the roots from freezing, and water thoroughly. If the ground is already frozen, care for the potted tree in its sheltered location until spring and then plant it.
Dear Martha: How should I clean and store the glass-globe ornaments I inherited?
A: If your glass ornaments seem dirty, hold each up to a light to look for "crizzling," or fine cracks. This is a symptom of "sick glass" (a term for glass with a permanent loss of clarity), and it may first appear as a cloudy haze. Don't try to clean crizzled or otherwise damaged glass yourself; you might accelerate the deterioration. Instead, leave the job to a professional conservator. To find one, go to www.conservation-us.org, the Web site of the American Institute for Conservation of Historic & Artistic Works.
If there are no signs of crizzling, see if the ornaments are painted. Some, particularly those made before the 1960s, are painted on the surface. These and more ornate ornaments shouldn't undergo wet cleaning. Instead, dust lightly with a soft sable brush (available at art-supply stores). If your ornaments are unpainted (or painted on the inside), you can use a cotton swab moistened with distilled water. First test on a tiny area, and then roll the swab gently around the glass. If any dirt remains, use a mild solution made from one part ethanol (also labeled "denatured alcohol"), one part water and just a few drops of ammonia, applying it in the same fashion. Never use commercial cleansers, which are often too strong for vintage glass.
To store the ornaments, wrap them individually in acid-free tissue paper, and place them in a compartmentalized, archival-quality box. Choose a location that has stable, cool temperatures and low humidity, which may exclude basements and attics. Instead, designate a closet shelf for your decorations.