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Cloches

Back in the early ages of gardening, someone realized covering a plant could protect it from frost and wind chill, preserving blooms and protecting foliage from the ravages of ice crystals and dropping temperatures. In Victorian gardens and parlors, dome-shaped glass covers protected many tender and treasured plants from the nip of winter’s chill. Because of the resemblance to a close-fitting, bell-shaped woman’s hat, these protective devices were called cloches, the French word for hats. You’ve probably seen them over a plant in someone’s garden or greenhouse. Today, in addition to protecting plants and extending the growing season, they provide a touch of whimsy and romance for an elegant garden, terrarium or greenhouse.

Our gift store offers several sizes, materials and styles of cloches for garden use. The clear glass bell-shaped cloches are also popular for in-house decorating. Placed over a miniature orchid to enhance its growing environment or protecting a treasured arrangement, these gardening items show your trend setting and eclectic gardening style. They are ideal for specimen plants, or may be used to showcase a vintage vase, whimsical fairy garden, lush succulent arrangement or favorite potted plant. Even indoors, they provide protection to regulate the humidity and temperature near a plant, eliminating damaging drafts and helping keep delicate, temperamental plants happy.

Although the original cloches protected only one plant, the “cloche concept” now effectively extends the outdoor growing season for row crops. Modern technology and new materials make it easy to continue growing even after the temperatures drop. Hoops, tents and row covers protect late crops from frost and wind, extending the season and ensuring later harvests for the full richness of the fruits, vegetables, herbs and flowers that need just a bit of extra time to mature. Whether you hope to sell late season crops and want to improve your profit margin or would prefer a later harvest for extra canning and preservation, these tools can increase your season and improve your yields.

We have a large selection of protective materials including frost protection blankets, plastic row covers and curved hoops to hold the cloth above the plants without damaging produce or bruising leaves. Furthermore, if you want the growing season to never end at all, you can consider cold frames and miniature greenhouses that can keep your green thumb bright and active even on the coldest days. Come on in to see our complete selection, and keep on growing. 

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Please note: Our Garden Center might not carry all items listed in the above article!

Winter Silhouettes

Winter provides us the opportunity to examine our landscape silhouette, the flowing lines and overall shape of our landscape design. Combining varying heights, shapes and forms not only increases winter interest, but it also provides the framework for summer leaves, flowers and colors. So, how’s your garden’s silhouette shaping up?

Trees, Trees, Trees

Trees are the backbone of your landscape and are noticeable in every season. When flowers have faded and foliage has fallen, it is the trees that will be the stars of the show. If your winter landscape is lacking interest, here are some ideas for small to medium trees to provide winter texture and variety. If it’s too late (or too cold!) to plant now, consider the placement of one or more of our suggestions to incorporate after the big thaw.

  • Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick (Corylus avellana ‘Contorta’): This long-time favorite slowly grows to 8′ tall and wide. With drooping, twisty branches, this small tree is perfect in a large container, as a focal point or as a specimen in a small garden. Golden hanging catkins often persist through the winter. The contorted twigs and branches provide interest in flower arrangements.
  • Curly Willow (Salix matsudana ‘Tortuosa’): This upright rounded tree with curly twigs and branches grows to 30′ tall by 20′ wide, ideal for larger yards or bigger spaces. The twisted twigs, when encased in ice, bounce the sunlight around. When painted with metallic paint or shades of white, cut branches add interest to flower arrangements.
  • Paper Bark Maple (Acer griseum): This tree slowly grows to a gracefully shaped 15-30′ tall oval tree. Additional winter beauty is from its rich red to cinnamon-brown peeling and curling bark, which draws the eye both for its color and its texture. It’s simply beautiful against a snowy white background.
  • Weeping Cherry (Prunus subhirtella varieties): The fountain-like “weeping” form with slender drooping twigs casts fascinating shadows with its silhouette. Covered with a light dusting of snow or encased in ice, it looks like a sparkling Victorian chandelier and is an elegant focal point in the yard or flowerbed.
  • Slender Silhouette Sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua ‘Slender Silhouette’): A columnar variety of an American native, this tall and slender introduction grows to 40′ tall by 5′ wide, perfect for adding strong vertical pop to punctuate the winter garden. This is ideal for narrow spaces or smaller yards.

Of course, our helpful staff is here to answer any questions and offer landscaping suggestions tailored to your specific needs. There is no reason your landscape silhouette needs to fade into nothingness when winter arrives – we have the right trees for you!

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Please note: Our Garden Center might not carry all items listed in the above article!

Holiday Light Safety

Holiday lights are, by far, the most popular holiday decoration, adding sparkle and elegance to the season. Whether you use classic strings of lights, themed light displays or elaborate light dances, follow these important precautions when illuminating your home this year, both indoors and out, then sit back and enjoy the beauty of the season.

  • Use only UL approved light strands, extension cords and replacement bulbs, and purchase them from reputable dealers and retailers.
  • Use lights only in the manufacturer specified environment: indoor lights inside the home and outdoor lights outside the home.
  • Examine previously used lights carefully. Repair or replace frayed wires and damaged sockets or discard worn lights and purchase new strands.
  • Identify and replace all burned out bulbs (note: 2 burned out bulbs can shorten the remaining life of a light set by 39 percent, four bulbs by 63 percent).
  • Use heavy-duty extension cords with no more than three strands of lights per cord.
  • Carefully place extension cords to avoid tripping. Running cords against a wall is preferred. Indoors, extension cords should never be run under rugs or caught directly under furniture legs.
  • Outdoor lights should be plugged into circuits protected by ground-fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs).
  • A warm plug or wire and fuses that repeatedly blow means the circuit may be overloaded. Reduce the number of light stands to the circuit.
  • Fasten strings of lights securely to tree trunks and branches, walls, posts, mailboxes and other structures. Outdoors, support and hang lights with plastic zip ties or insulated holders. Never use metal tacks, staples or nails. Do not string lights on metal structures or near standing water.
  • Do not use light strands in nurseries, children’s play rooms or children’s bedrooms.
  • Do not hang lights near main electrical and feeder lines.
  • Indoors, only hang lights on a fresh tree or an artificial tree labeled as fire-resistant.
  • String lights carefully so light strands and cords are not pinched in windows, doors or under furniture, which can damage the cord’s insulation and increase the risk of short circuits.
  • Keep holiday lights on only during the evening hours and turn them off when you go to bed or leave the house.
  • Cover unused outlets on light strands and extension cords with electrical tape or plastic caps to minimize the risk of short circuits or pets or children contacting a live circuit.
  • Holiday lights are meant to be temporary. Take lights down when the season is over and store strands carefully for next year.

With careful attention to safety, you can enjoy stunning holiday light displays for many joyous seasons to come.

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Please note: Our Garden Center might not carry all items listed in the above article!

Gifts from the Greenhouse

Living gifts are wonderful for any holiday, and they are particularly popular in winter when they bring a lovely touch of nature indoors for us to enjoy until spring. Fortunately, there are many popular plants that make stunning holiday gifts.

Poinsettias

Available in shades of white, pink, red, gold, plum and variegated combinations, poinsettias are great for decorating your home as well as the perfect holiday gift. We sleeve your plants to protect them as you take them to your car. Do not leave these plants in an unheated car, and take them indoors quickly when you get home. Poinsettias’ colorful bracts last well beyond all the holidays and even into the spring if properly cared for. These easy-care plants prefer bright, filtered light in a spot free from drafts. Let the plant become moderately dry between waterings, and don’t fertilize while in bloom. Ask for our re-blooming guide if you want to try your hand at re-flowering your poinsettia next year.

Christmas Cactus

With colorful flowers in red, pink, salmon, orange, lavender or white, Christmas cactus will do best in a sunny south, east or west window. Keep the soil evenly moist but not too wet or else the roots may rot. To encourage your cactus to bloom, avoid any artificial light at night starting in September. You will also need to keep the plant in a cool location, allow the soil to dry well between waterings and don’t fertilize. Over time, these plants can grow to tremendous proportions and will have dozens of blooms just when their colors are most welcome.

Cyclamen

Cyclamen is a popular perennial plant with generous colorful flowers that bloom for a long time. Keep cyclamen evenly moist from September through May. Let them dry from June to August so the tuber can rest. Ideal light is a sunny east or west window, but do not allow the foliage to touch the glass or it may freeze or burn with the temperature changes. Cyclamen prefer a cool room (60-70 degrees). Feed them from September to May, then stop for the summer months to encourage winter blooming.

Amaryllis

This plant never fails to break the gloom of winter and provides enormous pleasure with its large, gorgeous blooms. If you want an amaryllis to bloom for Christmas, it must be started in the fall. Plant your amaryllis in a container not much larger than the bulb itself with a third of the bulb above the soil. Place in a warm, sunny spot, watering when the soil is dry. As the bulb grows more actively, increase the frequency of watering. Your plant will flower in brilliant red, white or a variegated pattern of the two. After flowering, you can save the bulb for next year. Ask one of our staff for instructions or pick up our free guide about amaryllis.

Azaleas

Florist azaleas normally bloom in spring, but they can be forced into bloom anytime. Azaleas are available in many colors, with the most popular shades including pink, white and peach. These flowers come in both single and double blooms and they can last for up to a month, ideal for a holiday gift or winter decoration. When an azalea is blooming, do not allow it to dry completely.

Norfolk Island Pine

These little trees are native to Norfolk Island in the Pacific, where they will grow as high as 200 feet with trunks 10 feet in diameter. Smaller versions are easy-to-please houseplants. A slow grower, Norfolk Island Pines will send out about 6 inches of new growth each year. Bright, indirect light is fine although in the winter the plants can stand full sun. Keep the plant moist, but never sodden. Feed your plant every 2 months. Repotting is best done in spring but needs to be done infrequently, since the plants are slow growers. These trees lose their lower branches as they grow.

Paperwhite Narcissus

Of all flower bulbs, paperwhite narcissus are one of the easiest to bring into flower in the indoor garden. Paperwhites are the delicate white flowering, notoriously fragrant narcissus that reliably bloom indoors about 4-6 weeks after planting. Paperwhites are grown in a dish with stones (or in a pot with soil). Fill the dish halfway with stones and place bulbs on top. Place bulbs close together, but not touching. Add water up to the base of the bulbs. Pack more stones around the bulbs until just the tips of the bulbs are visible. Place in a bright, cool area (60-65¡ F) and water regularly.

No matter which plant you choose, these gifts from the greenhouse add a fresh touch to any home throughout the winter.

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Please note: Our Garden Center might not carry all items listed in the above article!

Making a Terrarium

Hold onto your gardening hats, folks! Remember terrariums? A new trend revitalizing this old style is now better than ever. Creating a theme for your terrarium is easier too, with the all the miniatures now available. Remember those skinny-necked bottles and what a hassle they were? New container styles make terrariums easier to plant, simple to maintain and more beautiful in your home.

Style

What is your terrarium’s style? Tropical with ferns, arid with cacti or beach-like with tiny grasses, sand and water-like pebbles? Will you have figures such as fairies or gnomes? To choose the plants, consider the lighting where you plan to place the terrarium. If your gnome home is to be in the corner, consider using a cute fluorescent light or similar illumination to help keep your terrarium’s plants healthy and thriving.

Container Shape and Size

Choose your container and ensure it has enough room for your completed dream. Clear glass allows views of different layers of sand, soil and top dressing, giving your terrarium extra depth. Container shapes include hanging, footed, cylindrical, spherical, even leaning. Multi-sided geometric shapes are popular, as are smooth, curved shapes with a natural flow. If your garden includes tropical plants, consider a container with a smaller opening or a lid to increase humidity for healthier plants.

Don’t forget to consider size – tiny terrariums with just a plant or two are popular and can be hung like ornaments or make great gifts, while larger containers can create an entire microcosm and unique environment for a stunning display.

How to Plant

Planting a terrarium takes a little extra care, but is no more difficult than planting any houseplant.

  1. Put an inch or two of small gravel, pebbles or expanded clay pellets into the container, providing a drainage base. Mixing in several tablespoons of horticultural charcoal prevents odors. If the container is large enough, layer other colors or sizes of pebbles or sands to create visual interest when viewed from the side.
  2. Soil goes in next. Many plants grow well in light soils mixed with peat moss and vermiculite or perlite. Moistened coir is another option. Alternatively, consider special prepared soil mixes for African violets, succulents or cacti.
  3. Create a landscape plan by first arranging the plants on the tabletop to determine where they will be placed in the container, taking into account how the plants may touch the sides or top of the container.
  4. Plant the largest plant first. Dig a small hole, place the plant, and firmly tamp the soil around it. This is very important to stabilize the plants and remove air pockets. If the space is tight, smaller plants may be able to help stabilize larger plants.
  5. After placing the plants, you may want to top-dress with decorative pebbles or bark. Sand looks great around cacti. This is also the time to place fairies, cottages, twigs, larger stones, marbles and other decorative items in your terrarium to create the desired theme.
  6. When everything looks good (look at it from all sides and angles), use a small artist brush to clean any loose dirt or sand away from the sides and leaves.
  7. Use a mister to water the plants. Because the container acts as a small biosphere and much of the moisture is recycled, a little water lasts for quite awhile. Do not overwater your terrarium or the plants may rot, and replacing them can be a challenge.

Place your terrarium in its new location and enjoy its beauty and your accomplishment!

Please note: Our Garden Center might not carry all items listed in the above article!

Now For Something Completely Different… Poinsettias!

They have traditionally been the winter holiday’s most popular plant, the sure and steady standby, but have you seen poinsettias lately? These are not your mother’s poinsettias! Endless selections of bract colors and shapes combined with unique foliage offerings and a wide variety of forms and sizes make this year’s collection spectacular. Furthermore, to fit the most unusual of tastes, poinsettias may be painted just about any color to match your holiday decor and finished off with glitter to complete the festive look.

Poinsettias are now available in a tremendous range of colors, shapes and sizes, as illustrated by this table (any color may be found in any bract feature or plant form)…

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Cut Poinsettias

To use poinsettias as cut flowers, the stems must be treated right away. The milky sap must congeal inside the stems to prevent the plants from wilting. Immediately after cutting, dunk the cut ends of the stems into boiling water for about one minute and then immediately place them in cool water. Keep the flowers away from the steam to prevent them from being damaged. You may also singe the cut ends of the stems with a flame for a few seconds before placing them in cool water. Place vase of treated flowers in a cool place for at least 18-24 hours before they are used in arrangements.

 Poinsettia Fun Facts

Other than their use as stunning holiday decorations, how much do you really know about poinsettias?

  • Native to Mexico, the poinsettia was first introduced into the United States in 1825 by Joel Poinsett.
  • In its natural surroundings, the poinsettia is a perennial flowering shrub that grows up to 10 feet tall.
  • The showy part of the plant, the part that most of us call flowers, are actually colored bracts or modified leaves.
  • Poinsettias have been called ‘lobster flower’ or ‘flame leaf flower’ by many in the past.
  • Poinsettias are mildly poisonous. The milky sap can cause a skin irritation for some and an upset stomach if consumed in large quantities.
  • Poinsettias represent 85 percent of holiday season potted plant sales and are the best selling flowering potted plant in the U.S., even though most are sold in only a six week period before the holidays.
  • Dec 12th is National Poinsettia Day!

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Please note: Our Garden Center might not carry all items listed in the above article!

Stuff a Gardener’s Stocking

Stocking stuffers don’t have to be useless, jokey items that are quickly forgotten after the holidays. Instead, choose the appropriate stocking stuffers with a gardening twist, and even the smallest stocking will be filled with gardening fun for that special gardener in your life. No matter what type of gardener you want to buy for, we’ve got the right stocking stuffers for their green thumb!

All gardeners love:

  • Weather stations, rain gauges and hygrometers
  • Window thermometers or barometers
  • Hand tools such as bulb diggers, trowels, pruners, foldable saws and cultivators
  • Whetstone for sharpening blades
  • A soil pH reader
  • Velcro support tape
  • Holsters for pruners
  • Hand lotion to prevent chapping
  • Watering cans or wands
  • Kneeling pads
  • Subscriptions to their favorite gardening magazines
  • Garden-themed ornaments or trinkets

Seed sowers appreciate:

  • Seed packets, especially heirloom or unique varieties
  • Seed balls, pellets or garden “bon bons”
  • Soil thermometers
  • Dibble stick
  • Warming mats (just roll them up to put into the stocking)
  • Plant labels including metal with an embossing pen or write on styles
  • Small envelopes for storing seeds

Fashionista gardeners can feel glamorous with:

  • Stylish sun hats and sunglasses
  • Gardening aprons or belts
  • Garden clogs
  • Garden-themed jewelry
  • Gloves in chic colors or patterns

Flowerbed aficionados will appreciate:

  • Bulbs for spring blooms
  • A wildflower guide
  • Floral-themed garden accessories
  • Delicate bud vases for bringing flowers indoors
  • Spray bottle for pesticide or fungus care

Quirky gardeners will enjoy:

  • Whimsical wind chimes
  • Fairy garden accessories
  • Crazy types of plants and new cultivar seeds
  • Kitschy décor, like plastic pink flamingos
  • Garden gnomes and accessories
  • Themed stepping stones or create-your-own kits

Urban homesteaders can always use:

  • How-to guides for canning and preserving food
  • Filters for a kitchen compost bucket
  • Treats and toys for chickens, goats or other livestock
  • Indoor herb garden accessories
  • Microgreen kits

Wildlife-friendly gardeners will appreciate:

  • Bird feeders
  • Bird foods such as suet cakes or hummingbird nectar
  • A squirrel corn cob feeder
  • Local wildlife identification guides
  • Critter-resistant seeds and bulbs

No matter what type of gardener is on your shopping list this holiday season, there are plenty of stocking stuffer options to meet their gardening style. Stop in and finish off that shopping list today!

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Please note: Our Garden Center might not carry all items listed in the above article!

Getting Your Trees and Shrubs Ready For Winter

Winter wind and sun are responsible for much of the injuries your landscaping plants will sustain over the winter. The elements are especially hard on broadleaf evergreens such as rhododendrons, hollies, mountain laurel and boxwood. Being evergreen, these plants are constantly losing moisture through their leaves, but since the ground is frozen, the water in the soil is unavailable and they cannot replenish their supply. Drying winter winds and bright, reflecting sun only serve to compound the problem. Fortunately, there are a number of ways to prevent this.

  1. Make certain that the plants have plenty of water before the ground freezes as a plant in a water deficit situation is much more prone to winter injury. Keep watering plants until the first freeze, but water slowly so the ground is not saturated which would lead to ice heave and root damage.
  2. A heavy mulch of shredded bark or leaves, pine needles or straw can be spread around the plant to a depth of 3-5 inches. This will help preserve moisture in the soil and keep the soil warmer so delicate roots are not as easily damaged by ice and frost.
  3. To reduce the effects of the winds, wrap shrubs with burlap or other breathable fabric. This not only breaks the force of the wind, but also shades the plants from sun. Do not, however, wrap plants in plastic or tarps that would restrict air flow completely, or the plants may smother. Another option is to use Wilt-Pruf. It is sprayed on the plant to reduce the loss of moisture caused by wind and sun.
  4. Remember, younger plants, saplings and newly planted shrubs are more subject to winter damage so take special care of these. Plant as early as possible so they have more time to get established before winter sets in, and keep a close eye on them to minimize any storm damage through the season.
  5. After a heavy storm, inspect your trees and shrubs for damage. If boughs or branches have broken, prune them away immediately so they do not continue to tear and cause more injury to the plant. Use a soft broom to brush off a heavy accumulation of snow if needed, but do not try to melt away any accumulated ice or frost, as the temperature change can damage the plants.

With good preparation and conscientious care, your trees and shrubs can withstand even the cruelest of winter cold and storms, and they’ll be bursting into new spring growth before you know it.

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Please note: Our Garden Center might not carry all items listed in the above article!

Tools for Holiday Gift Giving

It’s easy to shop for gifts for the gardeners on our holiday list. There are always new tools available for the serious, and not so serious, gardeners in our lives. In fact, there may be too many to pick from, but we can help you narrow down the selection to find the perfect gift.

  • Pruners
    Every gardener faces the need to prune or deadhead flowers at some time. From hand pruning a wayward twig to removing a branch 10′ overhead, there is a pruning tool to make any job easier.Because everyone’s hands and hand strengths are different (and some folks are left-handed), hand pruners are the most personal of garden tools. Two well-known companies, Corona and Felco, produce hand pruners and saws. Hand pruners come in two basic styles: by-pass pruners have two sharp blades that pass each other when cutting, while anvil pruners have one sharp blade cutting the material against the other flat blade. Both companies offer several models of these styles to accommodate different pruning needs, sizes of hands, hand strengths and orientations. New ergonomic models optimize hand strength and minimize discomfort.Another option is a pruning saw, which is different from any old saw. A larger sheath model saw makes short work of removing a large branch. A smaller fold-up model is great to have in a gardener’s pocket while making the daily rounds. Different models, with different lengths and teeth sizes, ease sawing effort. Check out our gift shop to see all the options.

    When an overhead branch requires removal, a gardener appreciates a pole pruner. Not only is it a hassle to get out the ladder, it’s dangerous to perform the sawing and pruning motions when balancing. The redesigned Fiskars pole pruners are powerful, with a telescoping pole to 12′ extension. If the branch is too large for the pruner, the detachable saw blade cuts through it. Unlike the old style pole pruners, there are no ropes to pull (and tangle in the tree!). Pruning heads even swivel to get a closer and cleaner cut. The Fiskars pole pruner, or Pruning Stik®, won’t fit in your gardener’s stocking, but it’s certain to be a winner!

  • Shovels and Spades
    Shovels and spades are other key gardening tools. While many shovel versions exist, the round point shovel is the most common. The heavy-duty blade point pushes through the soil and the rounded blade scoops the soil. Square-edged shovels also scoop soil and other materials in addition to digging but don’t have the point. Spades, basically a smaller version of a shovel, are usually flatter. Most shovels have a rolled lip, or rim, on the top of the blade. This is where the user puts their foot to push the tool into the soil. The larger the rim, the more comfortable for the foot when doing a lot of digging.Better quality shovels and spades are powder coated to prevent rust, are pre-sharpened, and the blade is welded or forged to the shaft. Shafts vary in style and material. Wood, plastic or fiberglass shafts may be straight or end with a handle. A fiberglass shaft lasts longer than wooden shafts and doesn’t require annual maintenance and cleaning. Ergonomic designs reduce the chance of wrist injury. Other shovel/spade specialties include the trenching shovels to dig deeper than the standard 12 inches, border spades and smaller sized round point shovels to dig smaller holes or working around existing landscape. And don’t forget trowels and other hand digging tools. If your gardener has a special digging or scooping need, there’s a shovel or spade for it.
  • Hoes
    Hoes may seem old-fashioned, but there are new designs every gardener can appreciate. Used since ancient times, the hoe performs many functions in the garden depending upon its configuration. The regular hoe’s rectangular shaped blade, positioned at a right angle to the shaft, weeds and shallowly cultivates. The V-shaped version, also called the Warren hoe, has a point to dig furrows for seed planting. The other side closes the furrows after planting. The “weeding” and “action” style hoes make short work of removing weeds.
  • Rakes
    A rake is another essential tool. Think of a leaf rake as a large hand – it allows the user to gather a large amount of material such as leaves and debris. Rakes may be metal or plastic, quite large to cover a large area quickly or quite small to get under plants without damage. Rakes are practical and save time and energy. Specialized rakes include the two styles of garden rakes, flat and bow, and thatch rakes to remove thatch from lawns to keep turf lush and thick.

There’s just one problem with giving these larger tools as gifts – they’re very difficult to wrap!

Please note: Our Garden Center might not carry all items listed in the above article!

Winter Vegetables on the Table

Winter marks a seasonal change. Our bodies seem to crave deeper, more tantalizing, richer tastes rather than light, bright, fruity flavors of summer. Harvesting vegetables in the late fall, and sometimes into the winter, presents us with bounty for slow, simple and savory cooking. All winter vegetables may be boiled, roasted, grilled, stewed, sautéed, steamed or eaten raw.

Which Vegetables Are Winter Vegetables?

Winter vegetables are generally considered those that are either harvested late in the season or have the capability of being kept for several weeks or months without losing their flavor, texture and nutritional value. Which of these will grace your table?

The cole, or cruciferous, vegetables such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, turnips and kohlrabi rank highly for many nutrients including vitamin C, soluble fiber and other nutrients with anticancer properties. Interestingly, boiling seems to reduce the potency of these nutrients, but other cooking methods don’t.

Root crops, including beets and carrots, sustain life around the world. Beets provide folate, nitrates and manganese in dishes such as borscht and pickled beets. Carrots contain diverse vitamins including A, C, K and B6 and antioxidants from carotenoids. Interestingly, recent research suggests many people prefer the flavor of steamed carrots to boiled.

Fennel, with its anise flavor, jazzes up meals throughout the world but is a favorite in Mediterranean and Italian cuisine. It tops nutritional lists with its antioxidant benefits. Try some raw in salads and appetizers.

Celery, related to fennel, adds a distinctive crunch when used in salads as a raw ingredient or a stronger flavor to soups and stews. With a mild taste, celery is versatile in a wide range of dishes, including mashes, stuffings and roasts.

Potatoes and sweet potatoes, long associated with the typical American holiday meal, contain many healthful benefits. According to research, boiling or steaming sweet potato provides the most health benefits; the phytochemicals in them rival that of broccoli. Roasting or baking potatoes is a healthy way to enjoy them, provided you are sparing with the toppings.

Winter squashes, from acorn to pumpkins, also serve as healthy sources of carbohydrates. Because 90 percent of the calories are starch-related, people are surprised at recent studies proving the antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and insulin-regulating effects of winter squash. Additionally, the roasted seeds make a delicious and healthful snack.

Winter Vegetable Recipes to Savor

Have you ever wondered how to roast vegetables? It’s easy! Just wash the vegetables, cut into 1″x1″ cubes, and place in mixing bowl. Drizzle over a few tablespoons extra virgin olive oil and mix to cover all pieces. Place as a single layer in a cookie or roasting pan. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and cook at 375⁰ Fahrenheit for approximately 45 minutes or until the desired texture is reached. Jazz it up with cinnamon, garlic, curry, rosemary or any other favorite spice or seasoning mix.

Here are some other recipes to bring these wonderful winter vegetables to your table. Bon appétit!

Roasted Winter Squash Seed and Cheese Ball Appetizer

Step 1: Roast winter squash seeds by cutting the winter squash in half and removing the seeds and stringy “gunk.” Put into a bowl half filled with water and rub between your hands to separate the seeds from the strings. Rinse the seeds again and spread out on a cookie sheet. Use a hair dryer or place in 150⁰ Fahrenheit oven to dry. Stirring every 10 minutes reduces drying time and ensures even drying.

Step 2: When dry, place seeds in bowl and combine with choice of seasonings. Mix thoroughly. Return to cookie sheet. Place in 275⁰ Fahrenheit oven for 10-20 minutes. Watch closely to prevent burning. When cool, chop finely to coat cheese ball.

Seasoning ideas

  1. Latino: 4 Tbs. melted butter, 2 tsp. chili powder, 1 tsp. oregano
  2. Asian: 4 Tbs. melted butter, 2 tsp. ground ginger, 1 tsp. hot mustard, 1 tsp. honey
  3. Holiday: 4 Tbs. melted butter, 2 tsp. cinnamon, 1 tsp. nutmeg, 2 tsp. sugar
  4. Use your imagination!

Step 3: Make cheese ball.

Ingredients:

2 pkg. (8 oz. each) softened Neufchatel cheese

1/2 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese (Low fat)

Directions:

Beat Neufchatel and cheddar in small bowl with mixer until well blended. Refrigerate 1 hour. Shape into ball. Press seasoned winter squash seeds onto cheese ball.

Serve with complimentary crackers, tortilla chips, pretzels or flatbread.

Winter Squash Casserole

(serves 2)

Ingredients:

2 Cups winter squash, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes

3 Tbs. extra virgin olive or macadamia nut oil

1 tsp. orange juice

1 tsp. lemon juice

Directions:

Steam squash chunks, covered, for 7-8 minutes, until just tender

Mix remaining ingredients, pour over squash in bowl

Toss while still warm. Serve.

Other Ideas:

  • Cook 1/2 C chopped onion with squash, or
  • Add fresh herbs such as basil or rosemary to liquid dressing, or
  • Sweeten with 1 tsp. cinnamon and 2 tsp. honey, or
  • For Asian flavoring, add 1 Tbs. minced fresh ginger, 2 tsp. soy sauce

Super Easy Grilled (or Baked) Cauliflower

  1. Remove the leaves. Cut the head in two, core the stem. Place both on large piece of heavy-duty foil.
  2. Melt 1/2 Cup butter with 2 tsp. garlic salt and 2 tsp. lemon pepper.
  3. Drizzle half of butter mixture over each half and sprinkle each with 3 Tbs. parmesan cheese
  4. Rejoin the two halves and drizzle remaining butter mixture on the outside.
  5. Fold foil around, creating a ball.

Cook at 350⁰ Fahrenheit for approximately an hour or until soft. Delicious!

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