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Sunday, March 20, 2011

Willows and Vines Make Great Finds!

March may be too cold and wet to start digging around outside, but there are fun and rewarding projects to accomplish.

Using grapevines lets you use your imagination, they're free, and the trees you pull them off of will breathe a sigh of relief. Just be aware of what you are pulling on, grapevines or poison ivy vines. Both will wrap tightly around tree branches but poison ivy is hairy whereas grapevines have a more peeling look to the vines. Do these projects now before the shrubs or trees bud out and its hard to see what you're doing.

Directions on how to make wreaths usually tell you to gather your materials, soak in warm water till pliable, then wrap around a bucket. If you've ever tried doing battle with these clingy things to get them into a tub of water, you may never do it again. A much easier method is to gather your vines and let them lay outside somewhere until it rains. Let the rain soften them for you. Get outside before the weather clears up and keep the mess outside. A five gallon plastic bucket is an ideal size for a wreath hole diameter of twelve inches. Wrap the vines around and around the bucket until the wreath is the size you desire.
Tuck in the ends as you go. When it is as large as you want, pull the wreath off of the bucket. Take additional pliable vines and wrap through and around all the way around the circle. Your wreath is now complete and can be hung to dry.
The pictured wreath above is two years old and as you can see the circle shape eventually pulls down into an oval. Eventually the vines will become brittle and it'll be time to make a new wreath.

Older, larger vines, cannot be manipulated very easily into a form, but a neat way to utilize them is to accent existing fences. Pictured here is my garden fence to which I just draped the heavy vines along the top, then held them there either by tucking the ends into the fence openings or using cable ties to hold them in place.

Also adding interest to my formally boring fence are the remains of a huge Corkscrew Willow branch that ripped off its tree during one of our winter storms. This type of willow has such fascinating twists and turns to its branches that I hated to just add them to the brush pile.

I cut them into manageable pieces and plugged them into the fence openings to hold them in place. I want to plant my peas and runner beans along the fence and observe how they climb along these art forms.

Returning birds are scoping out the areas for ideal nesting sites.
If you planted birdhouse gourds last year and have them drying somewhere, now is the time to clean them up and get them hung. Need to know how to grow birdhouse gourds? Wrens, in particular, like a swaying birdhouse and most likely will check out several of these gourds before choosing one.

This time of year, your gourds have been drying for about 5 - 6 months and if they made it through without rotting they should look like the picture on the left. They will be very light in weight, the seeds inside will rattle, and the outside appearance will look like dried, flaky mold spots. Just take a wire brush or sandpaper and brush this off till it is nice and smooth. With a serrated knife cut out a hole about midway from the bottom with a diameter hole size of about 3/4 - 1 inch. Poke additional little holes or small slits into the bottom of the gourd for drainage. Using an ice pick poke holes through the top near the stem so that you have two holes, one on each side. Now take a crochet hook and poke through both of these holes. Loop a length of about 12 inches of weatherproof cord rope around the hook and pull back through these holes. Now your cord rope is through the birdhouse and it is ready to hang. Be sure to hang these bird house gourds at least five feet off of the ground to be out of the reach of nosy predators, such as cats.
It is difficult to clean these types of birdhouses after the season is over, so I don't even bother. Usually by winter's end, they either have fallen, have woodpecker holes in them, or they become a home to a mouse or a bees nest. I never cared since I try to have a fresh batch of gourds each spring.

Enjoy such little projects these early springs days before the overwhelming work of lawn mowing and garden planting begins!