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String holiday lights with care

String holiday lights with care
As you decorate your yard with holiday lights this fall, take care to avoid harm to people or plants.

Safety first, says Horticulturist Donna Smith, who leads the crew that decorates the trees at the entrance of The Morton Arboretum. Don’t work alone; have a partner who can hold the ladder and hand you things so you don’t overreach.

Be sure to know how much power your lights draw and how much capacity your outdoor outlets have and don’t overload the circuits, Smith says. Use extension cords, taps, timers and lights are UL-listed and rated for outdoor use.

Using LEDs will allow you to use more lights, since these energy-efficient lights use so much less power than the old incandescents. They also don’t heat up as much so they are less likely to dry out plants.

Today’s LEDs come in warm or cool tones, Smith says. But she says it’s important not to mix lights on the same plant that are of different brands or bought at different times, because brands vary in their colors and the lights tend to fade over time.

Smith prefers to use lights to highlight the branch structure of a shrub or small tree rather than trying to wrap the entire plant. Starting at the base, her crew will wrap a light string loosely all along each of the main branches. It’s not necessary to light every branch in order to create the silhouette of the plant in lights, she says. Be gentle and don’t overload the plant with heavy lights.

After the holidays, remove the lights promptly. Plants can be damaged if lights are left on to cut into branches as they grow, and rodents also can chew the wires, Smith says. Label each strand with the brand and the year you bought it so you don’t mix them up.