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Crafting projects for the holidays

December 13, 2013 - 2:14pm

Have fun getting ready for the holidays by making your own decorations or gifts. Keep it green by using recycled items or readily available plant materials. Add to the fun by including kids in the project.

Keiki love crafting and it’s a joy to witness them on a project, so prepare for a mess and let them go. Scatological humor appeals to a child’s sense of humor. Start tame by introducing toilet paper rolls as a crafting item. Spray them, flock them, make angels from them to hang on a tree or create a choir of carolers for a table decoration.

Watch their eyes pop when you offer to help them make edible decorations or gifts that include snowman’s “poop.” Use plant material or decorated paper containers to hang cups of mini-marshmallow “poop” on the tree. Children’s imaginations go wild with this item.

For adults or mature keiki, making decorations from plant material is an easy task that can net beautiful results. Purchase a straw wreath base or make one using hala leaves or a tightly woven ti lei to build upon. Leaves, flowers and herbs that dry well can be tied or woven into the wreath. Attach the plant material with raffia, thread or cotton string and hang. If you use greenery or flowers, spritz your wreath daily and replace dead material as the season progresses.

Though Christmas berry trees are on the invasive species list, their branches with seasonal red berries make an attractive addition to wreaths and table decorations. Consider removing some of the berries from this tree as a contribution to the effort to keep the bird-borne seeds out of our native forests. The branches are a lovely addition to seasonal decor and the dried berries can be used in a peppercorn mix as pink peppercorns. Adding to the seasonal appeal, Christmas berry leaves are highly aromatic. Also known as Brazilian peppertree, Schinus terebinthifolius, the plant can cause allergic reactions in some people.

Ti plants have many uses for the holidays. Flowers and herbs and other decorative or gifting objects can be tucked into the weave of a tightly woven ti leaf lei. The fresh leaves also make a lovely, colorful base for other decorations on a table or shelf while helping to keep sap, wax or stains from contacting surfaces. Ti leaves can be used as part of a plant bouquet offering a variety of colors that can match the holiday spirit. Traditional Hawaiian gift wrap made of ti leaves is called puolo. It is made from bundled ti leaves tied stems up and decorated with plant material.

Use old candles and containers for a holiday recycling project. Baby food jars, metal tins or used glass or metal containers that can withstand heat can be used. Melt the candles in a double boiler or slow cooker, using containers you will only use for wax to eliminate difficult cleanup. Colors can be added with aniline dyes or natural materials such as turmeric for a deep yellow or berries for purples and reds. Plant material used for coloring should be removed before ladeling hot wax into a container with the wicking string. Crayons can also be used but their pigments may hamper the candle’s burning. Use rosemary leaves or lavender flowers to add color and aroma to the candle as it burns. Evergreen or peppermint oils can increase the appeal of a holiday candle. Lavender or rose are year-round favorites.

Before you spend long hours shopping, look around your garden or neighborhood or in your recycling bin for gift and decorating ideas that are less stress, less money and more fun.

If you need the right book for the gardener on your list consider the recently published “The Watersmart Garden: 100 Great Plants for the Tropical Xeriscape” by Fred Rauch and Paul Weissich or the newly reissued “Plants of Hawaii” by Fortunato Teho.

Tropical gardening helpline

Loreen asks: The leaves on some of my salad greens, particularly the mizuna and arugula have the twisty trails of leaf miner damage. What can I do to get rid of these insects and their unsightly damage?

Answer: The twisty trails are the result of the feeding pattern of the larva of a small insect in the genus Liriomyza. Many species of leaf miners exist that attack different host plants, but all larvae leave these distinctive trails.

Leaf miner populations seem to increase when the weather gets drier, so you’ll want to start your control program now, early in our dry season. It is also true that plants that have been overwatered or overfertilized are more susceptible to leaf miner attack. Feed and water plants only what they need to help with pest control.

The leaf miner’s life cycle starts when the adult lays her eggs on the leaves of the host plant. The larva emerges and feeds on the tissue between the upper and lower surfaces of the leaves which creates the distinctive trails.

Once they have eaten and developed to maturity the larvae leave the “mines” they have created and drop to the ground to pupate. The cycle takes about two weeks to complete. Interruption of this cycle at any point will reduce the infestation.

The first step in control is to remove all affected leaves as soon as you see them. If damage is over one third of the plant’s leaves, you may want to pull it out and start a new one in a different area. Removing the damaged leaves can get rid of existing miners before they pupate into adults. Placing plastic trays under affected plants to collect and destroy the pupae is another way to halt their life cycle.

If damage becomes severe you can prevent the adults from laying eggs by spraying a low toxic insecticide such as neem oil to kill the adult fly. The oil must contact the adult to kill it, however.

Systemic insecticides can help control the larvae in ornamental plants but should never be used on salad greens. A small parasitic wasp is a predator of the leaf miner adult. Applying any insecticide to the plan will also kill the predator.

Though leaf miner damage is unsightly and you may choose not to eat the damaged leaves, the miners are tiny and may not even be present once you see the trails. Though you may not want to sell or offer a salad of mined leaves to friends, the damage does not usually make the leaves inedible.

Email plant questions to for answers by certified master gardeners. Some questions will be chosen for inclusion in this column.

Diana Duff is a plant adviser, educator and consultant with an organic farm in Captain Cook.