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How to Use & Interpret Your Soil Tests

soil meter in a garden

Soil is the foundation for a healthy yard, in more ways than one. It’s more than what we walk on. Soil should provide our plants with nutrients, hold just the right amount of water that our plants will need, and encourage them to put out root systems. Similar to how we need food and water to survive, our plants and trees do too, and the soil should provide much of this for them.

If your plants are struggling, or they’re just lackluster and never seem to grow, there are a few things to check, like whether it’s planted in a location suited to its preferences. But, if your plants, shrubs, and trees are all planted where they should get the right amount of sunlight, then you might want to move on to checking the soil.

Besides making sure your soil has enough organic matter to hold onto a bit of moisture and some larger textures to help it drain well, you should also check the nutrient profiles.

You can use a soil test kit to test the soil in your yard and determine if your soil might be causing your less-than-stellar growth, and figure out what you can do to improve the soil for your plants, trees, and shrubs.

Soil test kits usually consist of four test tubes and different chemical reaction additives for testing. It is best to use distilled water for your tests to ensure there are no water treatment chemicals or minerals that could affect your interpretation. 

You can get soil test kits that just test the pH of your soil, but it’s worth getting one that tests for nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium (NPK) as well.

soil test kit in garden

How to Use Your Soil Test Kit

Carefully read the instruction guide included with your soil test kit before you start. For the pH test, you can usually do it quite quickly with just a tiny bit of soil, distilled water, and the powder capsule. 

For the NPK soil tests, it’s best to collect soil samples from a few different locations around your yard, create a mixture of all the soils with distilled water, and then wait for it to settle. A mixture of 1 part soil to 1 part distilled water will give you a good sample.

Before you start, think about which plants you want a soil test interpretation for. Perennials, shrubs, and trees all have deep roots. So if you’re going to test the soil from them, you’ll need to get samples from 12-16 inches deep. If you just want to make sure your annuals do well, you can just test surface soil, from 3-5 inches deep.

Mix your soil test samples in a jar, add distilled water, close it tightly, and then shake it for at least 1 full minute, then set it aside to settle. Settling could take anywhere from 30 minutes to 24 hours, depending on your local soil. Ideally, the water should be as clear as possible before testing.

The exciting thing about this soil test mixture is that you’ll also be able to see what makes up your soil as it settles in layers in the jar. This interpretation can help you determine if your soil needs more coarse material added to improve drainage or more organic matter to improve moisture retention.

Follow the instructions in the guide closely. Usually, you’ll use a dropper to fill a soil test tube with water from your jar to a specific line, and then add the powder from one of the capsules. Give it a good shake, and then let it sit for about 10 minutes. Then compare the color of the soil to the chart included in your kit.

The color chart will tell you how high the levels of each nutrient are in your soil.

person testing soil in planter

Soil Test Interpretation

The color chart gives you a good guide of your current nutrient levels, but the interpretation of how to amend your soil to fix nutrient deficiencies can be more complex. Read all the information in the kit carefully, and mark your soil test results down somewhere before you dump out your samples. Even better, take a picture of each test tube next to the interpretation chart and keep them on your phone or computer. 

Once you know your levels, you’ll need to do a bit of research to figure out the best way to solve any soil deficiencies you might have. If you have low nutrient levels, there are different products you can add to your soil to build up its health and nutrient balance over time. 

If you have low nitrogen, you can add well-composted manure, grass clippings, coffee grounds, grow a green manure cover crop, add a fish emulsion, or use nitrogen fertilizer, although that is not a long term solution. If you’re low in phosphorus, you can use a phosphorus fertilizer, but be careful not to use too much since phosphorus doesn’t get used up or break down the same way other minerals do. If you have low potassium, you can add actual potash or your own compost. Compost from fruits, veggies, and green yard material is an excellent source of potassium. Banana peels in particular are high in potassium, so add them to your compost bin. 

If some of the nutrient levels in your soil are too high, it’s a bit more complicated to deal with, and you should seek the advice of your local extension office. You may want to consider having a soil analysis done by an actual lab. The extension office will be able to guide your soil amendment strategy.

If you’d like to test your soil this year, stop by Ted Lare and pick up a test kit. If you’re not sure how to amend your soil after getting your test results, have a chat with one of our experts for some advice on how to improve your soil for healthier plants. 

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New Spring Botanical Workshop Kits For You

woman holding succulent bare rooted

Our virtual workshop kit classes went so well over the holidays that we’re keeping on with this new way of doing them, in addition to having a few people able to attend workshops in person, following all social distancing protocols. What’s even more exciting for this spring though, is that we’re recording the live stream from each virtual spring workshop event and posting them. So if a class is scheduled during a time you can’t tune in, you can still pick up your kit and watch it back when it’s convenient for you.

This also means that we’ll be able to put together more kits from past classes, and have those available as well. We haven’t worked out all the details yet for how we’re going to manage kits for past classes, but we’ll keep you posted when we nail it down. If you have any questions, you can send us a message on Facebook, or stop by one of our pop-up days in February! We’ll be open 9-5 on two Saturdays during the month, February 6 and 13. 

In the meantime, here are the exciting virtual workshops we’ve got scheduled for this spring. You can order your workshop kit online and opt for either curbside pickup, or just stop in for a visit. Then you’ll be able to tune in to Facebook Live the day of the workshop, or watch it back later when you have time. 

Succulent Trough Kit (Basic or Deluxe)

This rustic succulent trough arrangement is going to be the perfect centerpiece for your patio table this summer. The trough is classic antique-looking metal. It’s long, narrow, and low. Perfect for adding interest, but not obstructing views to friends across the table.

succulent trough workshop

The Succulent Trough Kit has everything you need to create this arrangement right at home. It contains a metal trough that measures 18” x 5″ across, 5 succulents, soil, and decorative gravel, for $60.

The Deluxe Kit includes the same items as the Basic Kit, but the trough is 24” x 4” and has 10 succulents, for $90.

Grapevine Wreath Succulent Kit (Spanish or Sheet moss)

grapevine wreath with succulents

Keep your front door well dressed through spring and summer with a beautiful seasonally appropriate wreath. The wreath suits any decor style with its classic rich brown color and natural style. Accented with moss and succulents, it creates a beautiful, welcoming wreath!

The Spanish Moss Kit includes a 12” wreath form, 5 succulents, floral adhesive, and preserved Spanish moss. Spanish moss is a silvery-greenish-gray color and has many individual strands. It’s often seen hanging from trees. 

The Green Moss kit includes a 12” wreath form, 5 succulents, floral adhesive, and preserved green sheet moss. The sheet moss is a vibrant natural green, and it has a finer texture than the Spanish moss.  

The Grapevine Wreath Succulent kits are $50. 

spring flowers at Ted Lare Garden Center

Stop By Our Pop-Up Shops

Order your virtual workshop kits online soon, as there is limited availability for these kits. And don’t forget to stop by our pop-up shops, on February 6 and 13, from 9 AM to 5 PM, and check out all the beautiful houseplants that have been delivered recently.

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Seed Starting Essentials You’ll Need for Your Garden

man planting seeds in cell tray

If you’re starting your garden veggies like tomatoes and peppers from seed this year, you’ll need some basic equipment. Here are the different essentials that will help you have a successful seed starting adventure and make it easier to manage. 

Trays and Planting Cells

Flat trays fit a variety of different types of cell inserts, make it easier to organize your seedlings, and move them when needed. The trays are quite sturdy, but once they’re full, they may flex a bit. You can add a web tray to the bottom to give them a bit more strength when you’re moving them. These trays also make watering a little simpler since they’ll catch any excess water. It’s handy to have quite a few of these trays to easily move and organize your seedlings. 

cell tray with seedlings planted

There are plenty of different kinds of growing cells that you can use in standard trays. Growing cells are one of those essentials that make growing from seed much easier. Most growing cells are made of thin plastic, with 2-3 drainage slots in the bottom of each cell. 

You can get sets of cells that are four-packs, six-packs, or single larger rectangular cells. The rectangular cells are nice for starting small seeds in. Once the seedlings get a little larger, you can quite easily tease them out of the group and transplant them into their own growing cell. 

If you want to start individual seeds, you may want to consider a plug tray. These come in varying sizes, from 72 cells in a tray up to 512. For the average gardener, the 128 or 72 cell trays are usually perfect. Plug trays are typically different dimensions than standard flat trays, so they won’t necessarily fit into a standard greenhouse flat tray, so you may need to find a different solution for catching excess water runoff.

seedlings with humidity dome

Humidity Domes

Humidity domes are one of the essentials for the early days of starting seeds. Seedlings can dry out and die quite quickly when they’re tiny, so humidity trays will help keep in the moisture they need to grow stronger. 

Humidity domes come in different heights, from 2 inches all the way up to 12 inches. Generally, the 2-inch tall ones are more than enough for starting garden seeds. Once your plants are an inch or two tall, it’s usually best to keep your domes off, so plants can start toughening up and getting used to air movement. 

Too high of humidity can also cause damping-off, which you don’t want. Once damping-off starts in a tray, it’s almost certain you’ll lose the entire tray of seedlings. Good air circulation is essential for preventing damping-off. 

Seedling Heat Mats

Heat mats can be convenient since many of the seeds that people start ahead like to germinate in warm soil. Heat mats may also improve germination rates and help some plants grow a little faster since they keep the root zone at optimum growing temperatures. 

You can get heat mats in a variety of sizes, ranging from a single tray size to ones that are long enough for a whole table of trays. Check your seed packets for growing temperature info before you put trays on the heat mats. Not all seedlings necessarily want or need warm soil. 

pepper plant under grow light

Grow Lights

Grow lights are one of the most critical essentials to starting vigorous vegetable seedlings for your garden. A sunny windowsill might seem ideal, but windows cut the sun’s power a lot, and the days are relatively short when gardeners are starting their seeds. 

At the bare minimum, you should have at least one 2-foot long grow light per tray, but two bulbs per tray are better. With just one bulb, you’ll still notice some plants stretching and getting spindly. 

Ideally, when you’re starting your seeds, the bulbs should be hung so they’re just slightly higher than the top of your humidity domes. The lights need to be very close to the plants to help them grow compact and strong. Mounting your lights so the height is adjustable will give you the best results as you’ll be able to keep moving them up a little at a time as the plants grow. 

When it comes to choosing to grow lights, it’s important to think about how many plants you’ll start. If you’re only going to have one tray with a couple of tomatoes, peppers, and maybe some herbs, then 2-foot lights are probably enough. But if you think you’re going to want to grow more from seed in future years, then it is a good idea to invest in longer bulbs and fixtures. 

tomato plant under grow light

There are plenty of options for grow lights now, from LED to the standard fluorescent. Lots of growers still use fluorescent bulbs, and they work well. But, LEDs are more energy-efficient, and they don’t heat up as much. 

Lights with built-in timers make life super easy, but you can also easily add a timer to any grow lights. Timers on your lights are one of those essentials that you might think you can do without, but once you get one, you’ll wonder why you waited so long!

If you’re interested in starting your Iowa garden from seed this year, we’ve got everything you’ll need at the garden center. Stop by, and we can help set you up with all your garden starting essentials. 

The best part is that your seed starting equipment will last you for years and years. If you store your lights carefully and clean and sterilize your trays and cells, you won’t need to replace any of them for a long time yet. 

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Christmas Cactus Care

The dramatically beautiful flowers of Christmas cactus are a popular element of the holiday season around the world. The vibrant colors and unique shapes of these succulent houseplants brighten up the shortest days of the year. 


Not every blooming cactus is a Christmas cactus, though. Commonly they’re all referred to as “Christmas cactus,” but there are also Easter and Thanksgiving cactuses. When your cactus blooms depends on what kind of cactus it is and whether it receives the right care to encourage blooming. 

How Do I know if I have a Christmas Cactus?

The differences between Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas cactus can be pretty subtle. Here are a few basic differences:

  • Thanksgiving cactus has conical leaves with sharp pointy teeth and usually has yellow pollen. The tubular flowers generally grow horizontally and are not symmetrical. They typically bloom between the end of September to mid-December.
  • Christmas cactus has conical leaves with scalloped edges free of sharp points, and the flowers usually have pink pollen. They typically bloom between October and January and may bloom again between March and May. The tubular flowers are symmetrical and grow downward.  
  • Easter cactus has oval-shaped leaves with slightly scalloped edges. They usually bloom in spring, around Easter. The flowers have a more spiky open shape.

Regardless of which cactus you have, they all require similar care, and they all flower beautifully.

Caring for Christmas Cactus

While we call them Christmas cactus, they’re not quite the same as the cacti that live in the deserts. Holiday cacti are native to the tropical rainforests of Brazil. So, while they do like to have drier soil than other plants, they won’t last as long without water as the other cacti species commonly kept as houseplants.

How Do You Keep A Christmas Cactus Alive?

Keeping a Christmas cactus alive isn’t as complicated as you might have heard. They like soil that drains well, so choose a soil specifically for cacti. They love humidity, so use a pebble tray or set up a humidifier nearby. They also need to be watered more frequently than other cacti.

How Often Do You Water a Christmas Cactus?

You should water your Christmas cactus when the top inch of soil feels dry, making sure to empty any remaining water from the drip tray after an hour or two. Blooming does require a little more water, so check if the soil feels damp or dry every couple of days when your Christmas cactus starts to make flower buds.

Do Christmas Cactus Need A Lot Of Sun?

Christmas cactus need bright light, but too much direct sun can actually burn their leaves. They’ll be happiest in a room with a sunny window. Either keep a sheer curtain between them and the window to diffuse direct sunlight, or keep them a few feet back from the window so that they don’t get too much sun.

How Do You Get A Christmas Cactus To Bloom?

Christmas cactus bloom in reaction to typical seasonal light and temperature changes in the fall. If your Christmas cactus won’t bloom at all, it might be because it doesn’t get cold enough or experience sufficient periods of darkness. 

Christmas cactuses need nighttime temperatures around 50º-60ºF, and 13 hours of darkness per night to start blooming. If the room where you’ve placed your Christmas cactus gets a lot of ambient light from outside, close the curtains or blinds, or cover the cactus with a dark-colored sheet. If you lower the overnight temperature in your house and start covering your Christmas cactus overnight in early October, it should bloom on time for the holidays. Once you see buds forming, you can stop covering it at night. 

Holiday cacti, whether Easter, Thanksgiving, or Christmas, will live for years if lovingly cared for! Our garden center is now closed for the season, but we look forward to seeing you again in January. Happy Holidays from our team at Ted Lare Design & Build!

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Poinsettia Care and History

Poinsettias have become such an icon of Christmas that it might be surprising that they have a long history before ever being associated with Christmas. Poinsettias are native to Mexico and Guatemala, where they grow wild and can become large trees. They were used as a medicinal plant by the Aztecs to reduce fevers and are also used to create red and purple fabric dyes.

In 1827 Joel Poinsett brought a few back to the US and started propagating them. In the early 1900s, Albert Ecke, a farmer displaced by Hollywood’s rapid growth, saw the potential in growing these plants. He moved his farm to Encinitas and started growing Poinsettias. In the 1960s, his son, Paul Ecke, took over the farm. Paul turned Poinsettias into the Christmas icon that it is today with some savvy marketing and hard work. At one point, they had a 90% monopoly on the worldwide Poinsettia market. When the farm was sold in 2012, the Paul Ecke Ranch still held 50% of the global market share for Poinsettias.

Poinsettias are relatively easy to care for, and you can keep them all year long as a houseplant.

A common myth circulates every year at Christmas that Poinsettias are poisonous, but it’s just that, a myth.
This favorite holiday houseplant is not toxic for people or pets! If your dog eats an entire plant, they’ll probably have an upset stomach, but the plant is not actually poisonous. 

How Do You Take Care of a Poinsettia After Christmas?

Poinsettias are relatively easy to care for, and you can keep them all year long as a houseplant. With a little bit of extra attention next fall, you can enjoy its holiday blooms again for next Christmas. 

Poinsettias need:

  • Bright light.
  • Cooler temperatures, around 65-68°.
  • To be watered when the pot feels light or the soil is dry to the touch.
  • Poinsettias do not need fertilizer while they’re blooming.

How to Water Poinsettias

Remove your Poinsettia from its foil wrapper or decorative pot and place it in a few inches of tepid water in the sink. Allow it to soak until the soil on top feels moist, about 20-30 minutes. Empty the sink and let the Poinsettia drain for 15-20 minutes before returning it to the decorative pot or foil wrapper.

Don’t Throw Your Poinsettia Away

You can keep your Poinsettia for next year, just keep it somewhere bright and continue watering it as usual. In late spring, April or May, prune back one-third of the plant, leaving 2-3 leaves per stem, and then repot it into well-draining soil in a slightly larger pot with drainage holes. Apply a balanced fertilizer, or a 20-10-10 fertilizer, every two weeks from April to September. Prune it back again in early August to encourage bushier growth, but don’t prune after September if you want it to bloom.

How Do You Get A Poinsettia To Rebloom?

Poinsettias bloom in response to long periods of darkness at night. Starting at the beginning of October, your Poinsettia needs a minimum of 13-15 hours of complete darkness every single night, followed by 9-11 hours of very bright light. It needs this process for eight weeks. 

You can either move your Poinsettia into a closet at night, a room with blackout blinds, or even put a large cardboard box or dark sheet over it and then move it back to a south-facing window during the day. It’s probably easiest to set alarms on your phone to remind you every day. 

Once your Poinsettia has fully transformed, which should happen by about eight weeks, you can stop covering it at night and go back to regular care routines. 

We’ll See You At Ted Lare in The New Year!

Our garden center closed for the season on December 6th, so we can all enjoy a little downtime with our families. But, we’ll be back in 2021 for another year of epic landscaping projects, all the hottest houseplants, and gardening galore. Sign up for our newsletter to find out when the garden center will be reopening, so you can get started with your garden planning for 2021.

Happy Holidays from all of us at Ted Lare Design & Build!


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DIY Christmas & Holiday Pots

If you love the look of Christmas or holiday planters with evergreens, pine cones, ribbons, bows, and all the accessories, why not try making one yourself? There are a few different ways you can do them, from small live planters for the holiday dinner table to large outdoor porch planters full of evergreen boughs. 

Here are the supplies you’ll need to DIY your holiday pots and a few ideas to get you started!

Live Plant Arrangements for Indoors

Having a live plant arrangement on the table for the holidays is not just pretty; it’s a beautiful reminder of living plants and trees while the world outside is frozen. There are many different plants you can use together in a live planter, including evergreens.

What you’ll need:

  • A cute planter
  • A mini evergreen tree
  • 2-3 live plants
  • Assorted mini Christmas decorations
  • Potting soil
  • Mini twinkle lights
  • Decorative moss or stones (optional)

How to do it:

Depending on the plants you choose, you may be able to plant them together, or they may be best kept in separate pots. Lavender and Rosemary have different moisture needs than, say, an Alberta spruce or a lemon cypress tree. 

Even if they have different water needs, you can still give the illusion of being planted together. Keep the plants in their plastic nursery pots. Put a layer of soil in the bottom of your planter, then arrange the plants, still in their plastic pots, inside your container. Once you like how they’re arranged, fill up the gaps with soil and firm it in. Add a thin extra layer just over the tops of the plastic pots so you can’t see them. Now it looks like your plants are in the same planter, but they’re not. So you can safely give one plant all the water it needs while limiting how much other plants get. 

Once your plants are in, add your moss or stones to cover the soil, and then get to decorating your tree. Add a string of twinkle lights, and decorate your mini Christmas tree. 

Here are some live plants that you can use in indoor holiday planters:

Here some of the mini live evergreen trees that you can use in live planters:

Evergreen Arrangements for Outdoors

For outdoor pots, you’ll need a few supplies, plus some evergreens and whatever other decor accessories you like. If the soil in your porch pots is already frozen, you’ll also likely need some chicken wire. If you’re getting new planters, you can fill them up with fresh potting soil and make your arrangement before it freezes.

What you’ll need:

  • A bundle of evergreens per pot
  • Potting soil
  • Accessories like pinecones, red twigs, and birch poles
  • Decor accessories like ornaments or seasonal floral picks
  • Pruners
  • Chicken wire (optional)
  • Wire cutters (optional)
  • Metal tent stakes (optional)
  • Hammer (optional)

If you already have porch pots and the soil is frozen solid in them, you can still use them. If you’re using fresh soil, skip to the next paragraph.

Create a small ball of chicken wire, about half as wide as your pot; just crunch it up together into a rough ball. Then center it in your porch pot, and hammer a couple of tent stakes in to keep it secure. Then make a larger dome of chicken wire over the first ball. Work it into the top of your pot, so all the wire edges are inside the pot edge, and then secure it with a couple of tent stakes as well. 

If you’re using fresh soil, fill your pots up with soil within a few inches below the rim. Firm it down well. If the soil is really light and fluffy, water it well so it settles. The water will help it freeze better and secure your greenery.

Adding the Greenery & Accessories

Start with your bigger items, like birch poles if you’re using them. Secure them into the soil (or chicken wire) a few inches deep. Then start to add in your assorted greenery as you like it, sticking the stems into the soil several inches deep or through both layers of chicken wire. If you’re using chicken wire, make sure to arrange your greenery to obscure the wire itself. Use your pruners to trim any errant greenery for a pleasing overall shape.

Once you have all your foliage how you like it, start adding in your other accessories, like glittery decor, pinecones, red berries, or ornaments. Finish off your porch pots with a strand of white twinkle lights so you can enjoy it after dark too. 

Get Your Holiday Greenery At Ted Lare

If you’re ready to get your DIY on, you can swing by Ted Lare to pick up all the supplies you need. We’ve got a variety of evergreen boughs that you can buy piece by piece or in bundles. Our evergreen bundles have an assortment of greens and include enough boughs to do a 14” porch pot or several smaller projects. We’ve also got various fun ornamental picks and decor on handy sticks to include in your arrangements. 

P.S. If it doesn’t work out, we’ve also got an excellent selection of pre-made holiday pots, or you can sign up for a class!

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DIY Centerpiece That Transitions From Fall to Holiday

DIY fall holiday centerpieces Ted Lare

The transition from fall to winter can be a busy time for many of us. There are all the usual commitments. The annual tasks of decorating and preparing for Thanksgiving are followed shortly after by the transition to Christmas and holiday decorating, planning, and shopping. Fortunately, with a little creativity, you can save some time with your decorating this year! 

This centerpiece craft uses versatile base materials that can transition seamlessly from the Thanksgiving table to your Christmas feast with a few simple changes!

There are a million different ways to design centerpieces for the holidays, but we like ones that embrace seasonal beauty and allow us to still see the friendly faces across the table. A classic, timeless centerpiece for your Thanksgiving table is a long and low arrangement with seasonal accents. A narrow wooden tray or even a narrow serving dish with pinecones and 3-5 candles is a perfect base to take you through to the next few months with tasteful style and an easy transition. 

base centerpiece Ted Lare

Create Your Base Centerpiece & Add Fall Accents

For the base centerpiece, arrange your candles in your tray. If you want to use real candles, you may want to consider setting them inside hurricane vases to prevent fire risk. Then, arrange an assortment of pinecones around the candles. If you’re using LED candles, you won’t need the hurricanes. Candles with a remote are ideal, as you won’t have to touch the centerpiece each time you light it up! 

To give the simple centerpiece a fall aesthetic, add some colorful fall leaves, twigs with orange, yellow, or white berries, and some classic hardshell nuts like hazelnuts, walnuts, and brazil nuts. You could also add in a few mini pumpkins and some jewel-toned silk flowers if you like. 

holiday centerpiece Ted Lare

Transition Your Centerpiece for the Holidays

To transition your centerpiece to a more festive feel, remove the fall leaves, mini pumpkins, fall berries, and faux flowers.


Adding Christmas tree balls or ribbons are simple ways to tie the centerpiece to your other holiday decor.


If you like the look of snow-dusted pinecones, you can frost each pinecone with flocking (faux snow) spray, but you can also achieve a similar effect in a couple of other ways. You could sprinkle faux snow powder over the whole arrangement when you’re finished, or tuck small sprays of baby’s breath throughout the centerpiece to add that touch of white. 

Work in some cedar boughs and sprigs of holly and berries to add depth and variation to the greenery. Adding Christmas tree balls or ribbons are simple ways to tie the centerpiece to your other holiday decor. You can also add cinnamon sticks for a subtle scent, along with a few navel or mandarin oranges for an extra pop of color. 

Last but not least, a strand of LED twinkle lights, in addition to the candles, adds even more warm and cozy Christmas ambiance. You could even replace the candles with them, filling the hurricane vases with the lights. Or, you could intertwine them with your evergreen boughs.

evergreen bough centerpiece Ted Lare

Things to Keep in Mind About Evergreen Boughs 

Evergreen boughs will generally only last 1-2 weeks indoors. You can extend their indoor life by keeping them in vases of water, spraying them daily with water, or soaking them in water every few days, although this adds a lot of extra maintenance and fussing for your centerpiece. Spraying them with an anti-desiccant spray, such as Wilt Stop or Wilt-Pruf, will extend their life for a little longer as well. 

If you want to use fresh evergreens, you’ll probably want to wait until the week of Christmas to add them to your centerpiece or be prepared to replace them every few weeks with fresh ones. Faux evergreens boughs will make your centerpiece virtually maintenance-free. 

Alternatively, you can create one of our designer centerpieces in one of our popular evergreen decor classes! You can either attend your preferred class in person or take home a class kit and follow along virtually. All in-person attendees are required to wear a mask, and classes are limited to 10 people. Each person will be provided with their own table and freshly sanitized tools to use.


Love what you’re reading? Sign up to our email newsletter, and get inspiration delivered straight to your inbox. 


Creating your own holiday centerpiece is a fabulous way to get in the spirit and spread a little holiday joy to your household! Visit us in-store for more inspiration, or explore our online holiday store to browse more fresh holiday decor pieces, all handmade by our designers. We offer contactless curbside pickup and free delivery for orders over $50!

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Inspiration For Decorating Your Indoor Holiday Planters

indoor holiday planters Ted Lare

If you’re one of those early Christmas decorators, we’re here for you! And we’ve got some fun ideas to help you with some indoor holiday planter inspiration. Besides the obvious centerpieces, wreaths, garlands, and trees, there are lots of simple ways you can take your decor even further. Include all of your indoor planters in your Christmas decorating to spread the festive feelings from one end of your home to the other. 

Here are 9 ways to make your decorating scheme into an immersive holiday experience this year:


holiday planters festive pots Ted Lare

1. Change out your planters.

We often recommend that people plant their houseplants in a pot with drainage, usually plastic or terracotta, and then set that pot inside of a more decorative pot since many decorative pots don’t have drainage holes. If you want to take your Christmas decor up a notch, pop your plants into new decorative planters that match your seasonal decor theme.

2. Plant amaryllis for the center of your planters.

Amaryllis is a favorite Christmas bloom. Why not get a few and see if you can set them inside their own pot, in the center of your existing planters to add some gorgeous blooms in December.

3. Add small wreaths around planters.

Wreaths aren’t just for hanging on doors. They are a super-easy way to turn a plain plant pot into a festive planter. Lay a small wreath down, and set your planter in the center of it. Work some festive berries, colorful twigs, or pinecones into the wreath, and now your planter ties into your decor. 


indoor holiday planters decorations Ted Lare

4. Dress up your houseplants.

Add twinkle lights and a few ornaments to larger plants. Hang small ornaments, or stick them onto planters to carry your decor theme throughout your houseplant collection. 

5. Get wrapping!

Did you fall in love with a set of wrapping paper? Measure around the largest part of your plant pots, and measure how tall they are. Cut out a piece of wrapping paper 1-2 inches taller, fold over the top and bottom edge, wrap it snugly around your plant pot and secure it with tape. All of your houseplants coordinate with the presents under the tree now! 

6. Put a festive bow on it.

Get out your Christmas ribbon or burlap, and tie bows around your planters.

7. Add simple natural elements.

Setting a bundle of birch poles, some pinecones, and a sprig of red berries in front of or across the top of your planters, gives a natural hint to the festive season.

8. Enhance with dried florals.

Colored twigs, dried seed heads, dried berries, and pinecones are all things you can add to your planters to turn them into festive dried floral arrangements. 


indoor holiday planter garland Ted Lare

9. Embrace faux greenery.

We love fresh pine boughs; there’s nothing like that fresh forest scent. But, fresh boughs don’t last long indoors. The warm, moisture-wicked air from our furnaces dries them out fast, and sooner than later, they’ll be dropping their needles all over your floor. Faux green garland stays looking vibrant and lush, and you don’t have to water it!


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Want a little more inspiration for your holiday decor? Stop by the garden center. Our creative staff members have been decorating up a storm, and the place looks fantastic.

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How to Protect Your Roses & Evergreens for Winter

protect roses and evergreens winter Ted Lare

Winter can be a tough time for all of us, even some of our outdoor plants and shrubs. Evergreens and roses will benefit from some protection over the winter. Freeze and thaw cycles and cold, drying winter winds can cause problems for roses and trees. The freeze-thaw cycles cause plant cells to expand and even burst, and the wind can suck every ounce of moisture out of needles and branches. It’s often a combination of the two that causes winterkill.

Here are some ways to prevent winterkill on your roses and evergreens.

protect roses and evergreens winter Ted Lare

Protecting Roses from Winterkill

If your yard often gets hit with 10° or lower, it’s a good idea to protect your roses. There are hardy roses for this climate that will be fine. But, if you have hybrid teas, floribunda, or Grandiflora roses, they won’t take kindly to 10°. 

The biggest problem your roses will face is large temperature fluctuations and drying winds. The best way to combat these challenges is to insulate your roses really well.

Having a rose collar, shrub cover, or burlap, makes it easier to keep the insulation contained.

Once all the leaves have fallen off, bundle your rose canes up and tie them loosely together so that it’s a little easier to cover them. You can use a rose collar or a shrub cover filled with a dry material like straw to insulate your roses

Before you put the shrub cover on, pile some soil up around the bottom of your plant to protect the bud union. Then, once the ground starts to freeze, pack a thick layer of mulch around your rose, at least a foot or two deep. Having a rose collar, shrub cover, or burlap, makes it easier to keep the insulation contained. For insulating material, you can use light mulch, straw, or dry fallen leaves. Basically, any material that is not going to soak up or retain moisture will work. Too much moisture could cause rot. Once you’ve given it a thick insulating layer, cover it with a shrub cover, or wrap it with burlap. 

Don’t rush to uncover your roses in spring. It’s best to wait until the danger of freezing has passed.

protect roses and evergreens winter Ted Lare

Protecting Evergreens from Winterkill

Many evergreens are more than hardy enough to withstand an Iowa winter. But, when trees are young, or they’re less-hardy varieties, they will benefit from some winter protection. Freeze-thaw cycles are still a concern for evergreens, but mostly for the roots in the ground. The easiest way to prevent freeze-thaw damage is to give the root zone of your evergreens a thick blanket of mulch before winter hits.

Any evergreen, especially ones with exposure to high winds, can experience winterkill on branches and needles. You can spray evergreens with an anti-desiccant spray that will help them retain moisture. Giving your evergreens a long soaking watering in the fall will also help them be more resilient to the wind. For younger evergreens, it is a good idea to wrap them in burlap. Piling snow around them in the winter will insulate even more and give them a nice slow soak in the spring as the snow melts. Burlap also protects young evergreens from hungry deer.

If you have evergreens near the road, they might struggle from the salt spray from winter traffic. If they’re still small enough, wrapping them with burlap will help prevent some salt damage. If they’re too big to cover, you may want to consider replacing them with more salt-tolerant species of trees in the future.  

protect roses and evergreens winter Ted Lare

Heavy and wet snow can also cause damage to evergreens. If your trees are still small enough and drooping under heavy snow, you can try to brush the snow off of the branches. But, in the case of an ice storm, do not touch the trees. Ice is much more difficult to remove. You may cause branches to break, or worse, get hit by large falling ice chunks and hurting yourself.

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If you need supplies to protect your trees and shrubs this winter, burlap, shrub tents, mulch, or anti-desiccant spray, swing by the garden center on your way home. We’ve got the tools you need to keep your landscape insulated and safe through another infamous Des Moines winter. 

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Last-Minute Fall Garden Projects & Activities

DIY fall garden Ted Lare

Don’t let fall slip through your fingers without taking advantage of everything this season has to offer. We’re getting short on fall days in Iowa, but you’ve still got some time to embrace fall activities, make some memories, and of course, get a few last projects done around the yard. 

If you’re short on ideas of what to do, here are a few last-minute strategies to make the most of autumn. It’s not all about work and yard projects; there are a few ideas for fall fun in this list, too, so make sure to take a few breaks and enjoy the best of an Iowa autumn.

DIY fall garden save seeds Ted Lare

Save Seeds 

If you had some favorite annuals this year that you’d like to have more of next year, save some seeds from them! Most plants are setting seed now, and it’s pretty easy to harvest them. Once the seedheads have dried up and turned brown, you can gather the seed. Be careful with flowers like poppy seeds; it’s best to take a container or envelope right to the plant when you harvest, so they don’t get spilled on the ground.

You can harvest and dry seeds from tomatoes, beans, peppers, corn, cucumbers, squash or pumpkins, spinach, and amaranth in the vegetable patch. In the flower beds, you can save seeds from:

  • Bachelor Buttons
  • Marigolds
  • Larkspur
  • Sunflowers
  • Snapdragons
  • Calendula
  • Coneflowers
  • Nasturtiums
  • Black-Eyed Susans
  • Cosmos
  • Sweet Peas
  • Zinnias
  • Poppies

Make sure your seeds dry well and store them in labeled paper envelopes so that you can start them early next spring.


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Take Cuttings and Propagate Plants 

Many of your favorite garden plants, like geraniums and coleus, are actually tender perennials. If you snip off some healthy chunks of young stems, remove a few of the lower leaves, and pop them into moist soil, you can have yourself a whole batch of free plants for next summer. 

Create a Pumpkin Container 

Make your porch decor a little more interesting by turning your pumpkins into a flower pot—plant things like ornamental kale or chrysanthemums right into your pumpkin. When the frost finally kills everything, you can toss the whole thing into the compost bin. 

Go for a Leaf Drive

Take an afternoon and go for a drive in the countryside to check out the gorgeous fall foliage colors. It’s been a spectacular fall, so don’t miss it.

DIY fall garden apple orchard Ted Lare

Visit an Apple Orchard

While you’re out on your afternoon adventure, stop by an apple orchard or a pumpkin patch. Enjoy the delicious flavors of the fall harvest, and take home some fresh apples or a few pumpkins for the front porch. 

Play in the Leaves 

Those leaves aren’t going to clean themselves up. But before you get rid of them, indulge your children, grandchildren, or your inner child, and play in them. There’s nothing like a pile of leaves to toss around and jump in to get everyone laughing. 

Amend Your Garden Soil

Ok, you got those leaves raked up, but instead of filling up plastic garbage bags and sending them out with the trash, why not use them to improve your garden soil? As long as you don’t have trees with Anthracnose, you can turn those leaves into one of the best soil enrichments that exists. Mow over them a couple of times to break them up small, and then add them to your compost, or mix them straight into the soil in your garden beds.

This is also an excellent time to do a soil test and see if any other nutrients are missing, so you can add any other amendments if necessary.

spring bulbs Ted Lare

Plant Spring Bulbs 

Make spring easy and colorful by planting lots of spring bulbs. There are many more options than just tulips, and with just a little effort now, you can fill your yard with beautiful flowers from the time the snow starts to melt until summer flowers begin to bloom. 

Plant a Tree or Shrub    

Fall is also a great time to add trees and shrubs to your landscape. Just don’t wait too much longer to get them in the ground. Trees and shrubs should be in the ground about 6 weeks before the first killing frost of the season.

Dig out those bird feeders, disinfect them well, and then fill them up for our feathered friends.

DIY fall garden feed birds Ted Lare

Feed the Birds 

There are lots of birds starting to arrive on their winter migration journey, and the bugs they eat are getting scarce. Dig out those bird feeders, disinfect them well, and then fill them up for our feathered friends. Consider adding a heated birdbath for them this winter. 

Build a New Garden Bed 

Do you wish you had more raised beds? Well, now is a great time to build some. They’re quick to build, and getting them done now means the soil will settle over the winter, and you’ll know how much more you need to add next spring. 

bonfire Ted Lare

Have a Bonfire 

The yard is cleaned up, the tools are put away, and the season is nearing its end. Celebrate with a bonfire, some hot drinks, and one last session of roasting hot dogs and marshmallows around the fire with family and friends.