Let The Pros Deck Your Halls
Keep Holiday Plants Looking Good
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This article was prepared for the November 22, 2006 issue of U.S. 1
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Real Estate Notes
Top Of PageLet The Pros Deck Your Halls
If there is a Santa Claus, he could well be Steve Makrancy. "I sit
down on Thanksgiving and look over my list. I make sure that
everything is ready for Friday morning," says the owner of Makrancy
Quality Landscaping and Flowers on Kuser Road.
For this Santa, Black Friday, rather than Christmas Day, is the
epicenter of the holiday season. On that day, he and scores of his
helpers fan out across the greater Princeton area armed with
truckloads of wreaths, garlands, trees, and lights. This year they
will turn the Witherspoon Grill, Main Street Cafe in Lawrenceville,
three Merrill Lynch campuses, Carnegie Center, and a plethora of
churches into winter wonderlands.
They will also decorate area homes – inside and out. "I had one
customer for 20 years. He wanted something different every year," says
Makrancy. "One year it was Disney, one year it was Victorian, one year
it was traditional." Whatever the theme, it was elaborate, and the
house was large. The one constant from year to year was a front-yard
Nativity scene – made of concrete. The yearly tab ran to $10,000.
That is the high end of the service Makrancy offers. Homeowners
hankering for holiday decorations, but too busy to put them up, can
get all the basics – maybe a couple of wreaths, some lights on outdoor
trees, poinsettias, and a nice mantle piece – for more like $750. But
it’s hard to name an exact price, he says.
It generally costs between $3,000 to $5,000 to thoroughly decorate a
really large home inside and out.
Makrancy enjoys – and insists on being involved in – the creative
aspects of holiday decorating. "I had a couple of calls yesterday," he
says. "People wanted us to put up the decorations they own." That, he
will not do. "Then we would just be hands, and feet. If you don’t
bring ideas, you’re just labor." The extra value he brings is
designing the decorations.
It is interesting to note that most area nurseries will not do any
home decorating at all. Kale’s, for one, says that the insurance
required is prohibitive.
Speaking of insurance, Makrancy says that the home decoration business
has changed through the years. He recalls elaborate jobs in Washington
Crossing for executives of Fairless Steel before that company closed.
Yes, the company’s demise was an issue, but he says that there is a
bigger issue. "With the drinking laws, fewer people are doing holiday
entertaining at home," he says. "They would rather go to halls."
Still, there is demand. Makrancy talks about decorating the home of a
Hamilton woman who owns a bus company. "She likes kissing balls,
ribbon, and live wreaths," he says. So many people do prefer the look
– and smell – of real evergreen, but he does use artificial greens,
and thinks that they can be a good idea. Holiday decorations can stay
up for four weeks or more – especially this year, with Thanksgiving
falling so early in November – and fire can become a real hazard as
greens dry out.
Nobody likes to think of it now, just at the beginning of the holiday
season, but all of those decorations do need to come down. All of
those front yard lights do need to be wrestled out of branches. When a
professional holiday decorator like Makrancy takes on a job, he also
takes on the clean-up. Anyone who thinks that hiring a professional to
deck the front hall is just too expensive might pause to remember
that, while putting up tree and hanging the wreaths can be fun, taking
them down just isn’t.
Top Of PageKeep Holiday Plants Looking Good
Decorating your house all by yourself? Whether you’re going for an
all-out winter wonderland or just a touch of holiday spirit, plants
are bound to be in the mix.
Marianne Whitehead of the Rutgers Cooperative Extension in Middlesex
County offers advice on choosing Christmas plants, keeping them
healthy, and extending their beauty past the holiday season at a
workshop on Wednesday, November 29, at 6 p.m. at the Earth Center at
42 Riva Avenue Davidson’s Mill Pond Park in South Brunswick. Cost:
"The main thing is to select plants that are healthy," says Whitehead.
Tips-offs to poor health in poinsettias, the most popular Christmas
plant, include leaves with black tips, leaves that are curling a bit,
and loose stems. "Freshness is everything," says Whitehead. "If you
see a truck unloading plants, run right over."
As with most purchases, you get what you pay for when you buy holiday
plants. The $2.99 poinsettia at the big box store, the drug store, or
the supermarket can be just fine if it is only called upon to look
good for a couple of weeks. But check it out first. "The plants are
packed in together," says Whitehead. "Pull one out and look at it.
Make sure it is not flat on one side." Gently test the stems, too.
Often one or more are broken.
For a more gorgeous plant, and one that will still look good on
December 26, consider a nursery or florist. They often hand pick their
plants, choosing only the best that a grower has on hand, says
Whitehead, while a big box store will buy a grower’s entire stock,
scooping up the runts along with the stars.
In choosing a Christmas cactus, another holiday favorite, look for
plants that have buds, but not blooms, says Whitehead.
When the poinsettias and budding cacti are loaded into the car, it is
imperative to drive straight home. "These plants are temperature
sensitive," she says. They should be the last items picked up on a
shopping trip, and brought straight into the house. Once there, they
should be placed away from radiators, fireplaces, and any other source
of hot air. "They like bright, indirect light," says Whitehead. The
ideal placement for holiday plants is near a west-facing window. An
east-facing window is good too.
Some people like to rotate plants, but not Whitehead. "If a plant is
happy, leave it alone." She speaks from experience. In addition to
working at the Rutgers Cooperative three days a week, she tends to
hundreds of indoor corporate plants at her second job, with
Professional Plant Services in Highland Park.
Keeping a poinsettia happy, no matter where it is making its home,
requires judicious watering. "The surface should feel almost dry,"
says Whitehead. The plants do need water, but not too much, and their
roots should never sit in water. Therefore, it’s probably a good idea
to discard the bright foil wrappers in which the plants often come
wrapped. They look festive, but they trap water. An alternative would
be to remove the foil just after watering, and replace it once all of
the water has been absorbed. For the poinsettias she tends in
corporate lobbies once a week, she makes the water last by placing
natural sponge, cut in the size of the plants’ pots, underneath each
plant to catch water and feed it back up.
And if, by chance, a poinsettia has become host to white flies, the
most common pest to home in on these plants, toss it. "It’s not worth
treating it with pesticide," says Whitehead.
During her workshop, Whitehead is going to talk about how to keep
holiday plants blooming year after year. But she says that, in her
view, it just isn’t worth the trouble with a poinsettia. Getting the
plant to bloom a second year involves an exacting regimen. "It needs
14 hours of dark and 10 hours of light every day," she says. That
means hustling the plant into a closet or down to the basement, and
then bringing it out again, every single day. "You can’t miss a day,"
says Whitehead. "What if you are going to be away?"
People do manage to keep their poinsettias going year after year, she
marvels, but she isn’t up for the chore, and she guesses that most
holiday decorators aren’t either. "Just buy a new one," is her advice.
Another holiday favorite, the amaryllis, can be worth the effort,
though. "Once the flower is gone, it needs a rest period," she says.
"Put it in a dark place and withhold water for six to eight weeks.
Then repot it in the next size pot. Use a clay pot with fresh soil. It
can bloom year after year."
There are any number of strategies to extend the life of an amaryllis,
but Whitehead says the effort need not be elaborate. "My friend threw
hers outside in the shade, and it bloomed for three or four years,"
After working with plants all day, Whitehead has little desire to
nurture a poinsettia grove of her own. "I just get a little tree," she
says. "I like a live tree. Last year I had a blue spruce. After the
holidays I planted it here in the gardens."
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