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After the excitement of the winter holidays, the beginning of the New Year often seems dull and depressing. This is especially true if the days are cold and the skies are gray. Cleaning up after a party is never as much fun as setting one up.

Plants, especially bright and perky flowering plants, can help lift winter spirits. The molting Christmas trees or Saturnalia shrubs can be taken outdoors and hung with seeds and suet to create special bird protection areas. The branches can be removed and laid on the ground to protect plants from heaving. Keeping the soil from freezing and thawing helps keep roots from being pushed up out of the ground.

Plants indoors need special attention. With the shorter days and less light, plants need less water and fertilizer. This is the time for holiday guest plants to be sent on their way. Permanent plants deserve special care, such as removing all the dead leaves and stems from the plant and the soil surface. Damaged leaves can be trimmed with a sharp scissors, carefully following the shape of the leaf. After the foliage has been washed with warm water and patted dry, it can be returned to its regular spot.

At this time of year, many people feel tired, stressed and lethargic. This is nothing new. The ancient Roman 10-month year started in March and ended in December after the Saturnalia. The remaining 60 days, now called January and February, were ignored in the hope they would just go away. During the past 25 years, research has suggested that there is a reason many people feel sad, tired, and depressed. Seasonal Affected Disorder, known as SAD, (sometimes called the winter blues, or the hibernation reaction)  is a type of  depression that occurs as the days grow shorter. Light has been found to be effective in dispelling the “grismals” – people can go to Florida or purchase light therapy boxes for the home.  A well-lit indoor garden corner with a place to sit can add beauty and provide real comfort for both plants and people.

A mini tropical vacation to Garfield Park Conservatory (300 North Central Park in Chicago) is a delight. One of the largest and finest conservatories in the world, Garfield is a great place to refresh the spirit and get ideas for good plant combinations. Admission and parking are free, and the conservatory is  open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day except Wednesday, when it stays open until 8 p.m. The best time to go is early morning. 

Finally, shopping for plants now can lift the spirits, especially since plants are long-lasting – and non-fattening.