The window box that was filled with colorful flowers during the summer is looking a bit bedraggled these days. The window box does not have to take away from the beauty of the house during the winter. It can and should enhance your home just as the colorful summer flowers did and extend a warm welcome to visitors.

Start with removing spent annuals and cutting back perennials. Add enough moistened soil to hold the new plant materials. Cut fresh plant material and soak overnight or until ready to use. Lightly crush or criss-cross cut stems of woody materials to increase water take-up. Spray with an anti-desiccant. Check soil moisture and water as needed. Moist soil will hold branches in place better than dry soil and will lengthen the life of the cut material.

Wire stems and branches to florist stakes to extend the stem or branch length. Make hairpins to secure heavier materials in place.

The best materials are those from your yard, as they are free, but purchased material is just as good. Include dried vines (even those that are invasive, but not poison ivy) and pinecones. Leave natural or entwine deciduous plants with weather-proof ribbon and ornaments that will complement the house.

Plant materials: magnolia, holly and nandina with berries, ivy, pine and other needled evergreens. Interplant pansies and early spring bulbs for more color in late winter. Magnolia is the longest lasting followed in descending order to white pine. As branches lose their color and/or shed, remove and replace with the same or other.

Do not limit winter decorating to window boxes. Using the same materials to coordinate the design in any container that has been cleaned out for the winter. Entwine deciduous plants with weather-proof ribbon and ornaments.

Things to do

• Garden -- Remove foliage from daylily, iris and rose as they are susceptible to annual leaf fungal disease. Check the cold frame as temperatures rise above freezing. Prop the lid up to allow air circulation and prevent burning plants on sunny days. Remember to close the lid at night.

• Houseplants -- Be consistent in watering. Letting plant soil completely dry out and then overwatering can cause leaves to blister. Known as oedema, it is caused by the plant roots taking up water faster than it can transpire, resulting in burst cells particularly on the underneath side.

Start water forcing paperwhite daffodils. Suspend the bulbs over water so that the basil plate (root) just touches the water until roots emerge. Place in a bright cool location and add a few drops of alcohol to reduce bacteria growth.

Keep poinsettias in a cool, sunny location and water when the top inch of soil is dry. Fertilizer is not necessary, as it was done by the grower.

• Trees -- Prepare the hole for planting a tree and cover the dirt to keep it dry. Keep the tree moist and do not leave the tree in the house more than a week. Acclimate it to the cold before planting. Whether flocking a cut or live Christmas tree yourself or by a nursey, check whether it is a fire-retardant and for how long.

Cut trees are now available. Measure the width and height of where your tree will be set up. Take a tape or yard stick with you to make sure the tree is the right size. Recut the trunk to improve water uptake and splunge the cut end into a large bucket. Check the water level several times, as it will take up 1-2 gallons overnight depending on size.

Remove bagworms and destroy. Pull mulch back 2-3 inches from tree trunks. Deep mulch, known as volcanic mulching for its shape, provides a moist, protective environment for rodents, insects and disease.

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

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