Issue: December 2001

Garden Trash Can Be Recycled As Crafts or Compost

Broken corn stalks, tattered okra plants and blowing leaves may be the only things left in the garden in December, but with a little creativity, those scraps can be used for holiday ornaments, or compost.

The broken corn stalk is a seasonal treasure. Dried stalks, leaves and shucks can be moistened until they are pliable, then trimmed and tied together to form a small doll. Use dried corn silk as doll hair.

To make a larger doll, wrap colored cloth around a stack of dried corn leaves and tie it with string. Attach ears of blue corn to make legs and arms. Use a round, dried, medium-sized gourd for a head. Paint a face and adorn it with turkey feathers for a Southwestern flair.

Small desert or coyote gourds can also be dried, sanded and painted to make Christmas tree ornaments.

Form wreaths from coils of grapevines or Virginia creeper. Use florist wire to bind the wreath and decorate with pinecones, acorns, dried chile pods, colored popcorn ears, garlic bulbs, dried okra or yucca pods. Add dried cut flowers like yarrow or statice for color and brighten the wreath with spray paint.

Make corn ristras by braiding the leaves of small ornamental popcorn together, letting the ears hang down. Moisten the corn leaves to make them more pliable. Tie larger blue corn or other ornamental corn ears around the leaves with ribbon.

For traditional chile ristras, use florist wire to tie the stems of dried red chile pods together. Use frayed corn leaves to highlight the top of the ristra. Colored oak and maple leaves can also add interest to holiday centerpieces.

Most leaves, however, are best used for garden compost. To start the composting process, alternate layers of shredded leaves with layers of tomato and squash vines, shredded corn stalks, a nitrogen fertilizer or livestock manure, and a little soil. Keep the compost pile moist and turn it frequently with a garden fork to speed up the process. Properly managed, compost will decompose into a rich pile of humus that can be returned to the soil in the spring to nourish the garden.

Raking up leaves and other leftover plant material will reduce populations of overwintering grasshoppers and other insects by exposing them to freezing weather. On the other hand, the extra heat produced in the composting process will also kill overwintering insect eggs. Winter weeds should be removed to reduce populations of overwintering leafhoppers and aphids.

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For more gardening information, visit New Mexico State University's Cooperative Extension Service publications world wide web site at

George W. Dickerson, Ph.D., is is a horticulturist with New Mexico State University's Cooperative Extension Service. New Mexico State University is an equal opportunity/affirmative action employer and educator.

Also Please join us on Southwest Yard & Garden, a weekly garden program made for gardeners in the Southwest on: KNME-TV Albuquerque at 9:30 p.m. Saturdays, KENW-TV Portales at 10 a.m. Saturdays, and KRWG-TV Las Cruces at 11:30 a.m. Saturdays (repeated at 1 p.m. Thursdays.)