Use Eastern red cedar berries for holiday decoration and that compost any time

For The Baltimore Sun

I’d like to grow an evergreen tree that produces berries for holiday decorations besides red holly berries. I found these blue berries that would be perfect. What is this and should I plant it in my yard?

Eastern red cedar can have lovely blue “berries” with a light frosting of white. Only the female has the (technically) blue cones. The male cones are yellow-brown. You may want to plant several cedars to ensure a female, or purchase one of cone-bearing age.

Juniperus virginiana is a tough native, tolerating poor soil. It wants sun and moderate moisture. Its berries are relished by more than 50 species of birds. Both sexes make handsome additions to the landscape. As they mature, lower trunks become bare, displaying rugged bark like ropey muscles, that exfoliates. Some varieties have been selected for bluish foliage. Deer-proof!

I have some home-made compost that looks ready to use, and I didn’t plant fall crops. Should I store it and use it in the spring, or put it on the beds now? Does winter kill the living component of compost?

You can incorporate the compost into your garden now or in the spring. Cold weather slows down biological activity. The soil organisms will not be as active, but they will not be killed. Do not leave your soil bare over the winter, as it is prone to erosion and nutrient runoff. Cover with shredded leaves or straw.

University of Maryland Extension’s Home and Garden Information Center offers free gardening and pest information at extension.umd.edu/hgic. Click “Ask Maryland’s Gardening Experts” to send questions and photos.

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