For once, preparing for holiday decorations this year I am not leaving them to the day before, at least the gathering and conditioning of materials. Whether decorating now or last minute, it is wise to start gathering materials now. Survey your yard for materials. You might be surprised how much you will find.

If materials are sparse, add purchased nuts, fruit and root vegetables and ribbon at the last minute. Treat florist fresh eucalyptus the same as the above evergreens. Even dried it will retain its fragrance. Gather Kentucky coffeetree and catalpa pods, sweet gum and pine cones. Osage orange oozes a sticky residue that is hard to clean up and should be used only where it will not cause damage. It is great in a bowl to which boxwood or other evergreen twigs have been added.

Begin with long-lasting evergreens as the basis of your designs. Magnolia, boxwood, chamaecyparis and arborvitae will last a long time out of water; pine not as long. Holly wilts and spruce drops its needles quickly out of water. When cutting material, immediately place the stems in a bucket filleted with a few inches of water. In the house, re-cut ends and soak overnight. Spray with an anti-desiccant to seal in moisture. Store in the bucket until time to use. Cut extra to replace as needed.

From the garden add already dried materials: hydrangea, rose hips, grass plumes and stems of daylilies, iris, rudbeckia, blackberry lily and other perennials. These can be spray painted and glittered but do so in a well-ventilated area.

For hanging wreaths use as a base forms of vines, straw and metal. Oasis is not recommended as it is not strong, and as it dries it will shatter.

Once designs are finished, mist to keep them fresh. Remove wilted materials as needed. Place a water-proof material under designs that are on wood surfaces. Omit seeds, nuts and other wildlife foods to prevent a mess under exterior door wreaths.

Things to do

• Birds -- Install bird feeders and water sources. To keep the water unfrozen, place a piece of mirror in it. It reflects the sun and helps keep the water ice-free.

• Garden -- According to moon signs, this weekend is a good time to kill weeds. Mulch roses. Plant spring bulbs or pot-up the bulbs and sink into the ground or to force mid-winter. Cover the latter with a layer of leaves or mulch until ready to bring into the house.

Gather dried plant material for decorations. Cut evergreens, criss-cross cut the stems and immediately stand in water and place in a cool location until ready to use. Spray greenery with an anti-desiccant.

• Houseplants -- Inspect all parts of poinsettias and other holiday plants for signs of disease and insects. Remove from decorative sleeves or cut out the bottom. Let plants drain after watering before returning to their saucers. Do not crowd but give them plenty of space for air circulation. To get Cyclamen to bloom, place in a 50-60 degree room with bright light, and keep soil moist. To coil a drained hose is easier if it is placed in full sun to soften it.

• Trees and shrubs -- Take hardwood cuttings to planted in a cold-frame, shade or individual cloches. Plastic gallon bottles with bottom removed are just as good a glass cloches. Remove the cap on sunny days to let out some of the heat and humidity. Protect bonsai by placing in a sheltered location and check on soil moisture over winter.

Cover fireplace wood to keep it dry. Do not stack against the house to avoid bringing insects in with the wood. Do not burn wood treated with insecticides, as fumes will be released as it burns.

• Vegetables -- Harvest in-ground herbs to dry for use over the winter. Mulch strawberries using a light layer of straw.

Contact Carolyn Roof, the Sun's gardening columnist, at

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