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Window boxes don't have to sit empty all winter

This time of year is great for filling window boxes with winter squash, gourds, tiny pumpkins and Indian corn. Tuck pretty fallen leaves and twigs among them.
This time of year is great for filling window boxes with winter squash, gourds, tiny pumpkins and Indian corn. Tuck pretty fallen leaves and twigs among them.
Reed Davis

Question:Do you have any suggestions on what to put in window boxes during the fall and winter months?

Martha Stewart: Window boxes needn't stand empty once the temperature drops — and they should never house the remains of your summer annuals. (If you haven't cleared your boxes of dead plants yet, do so now.)

To prepare your window boxes for their fall and winter contents, empty out the old soil, and clean the box. Also, make sure the hardware that attaches the box to the house is still secure.

At this time of year, I like to fill window boxes with decorative autumnal items, such as dried gourds, winter squash, tiny pumpkins and Indian corn. Tuck pretty fallen leaves and twigs (or use preserved leaves and branches, found at craft stores) among them. For the winter, replant the boxes with little evergreens.

Every window box must have drainage holes, and you should start by adding a layer of a material that will slow drainage. This keeps the soil from pouring out the holes during a heavy rain. Gravel is usually used for this, but in the winter I use lava rock, a very light material that you will find at garden centers, since the evergreens themselves are much heavier than summer flowers.

After distributing a 1- to 2-inch layer of lava rock in the box, fill it halfway with good potting soil. Next, add miniature evergreens, such as junipers, spruces or pines. Use sheet moss to hide the soil and to offer the roots some insulation. As the holidays approach, decorate the trees and the boxes with little white lights. In the spring, transplant the healthy evergreens to the garden.

Question: I have a wide variety of compact discs. What is the best way to organize them so they not only look nice but are easy to access?

Answer: The selection of storage units made just for compact discs has improved greatly in recent years. You'll find a large assortment at housewares and furniture stores. But there are plenty of other ways to store your CDs. As you search for the perfect system, one of the most basic things to consider is whether you would like the collection to be on view.

If the room you'll be storing them in is sleek and modern or quite casual, or if the area is devoted exclusively to home entertainment, they'll fit right in. However, in a more traditional or formal setting, you might prefer to keep them out of sight. Whatever you choose, stacking cases or placing one row in front of another are bad ideas. You need to be able to take out one disc without moving any others, and to read the spine of every disc.

A large collection requires a generous amount of space, such as several shelves or drawers. You may devote some room in an existing piece of furniture, such as an armoire or bookshelf, to the CDs, as long as the shelves aren't too tall or the drawers too deep, in which case the CDs would look out of place, and you would be wasting valuable storage space. You might be better off buying a cabinet or chest of drawers, new or vintage, just for this purpose. Take a jewel box — the plastic case most CDs come in — along when shopping to make sure it will fit.

If you plan to store your collection in a stationary piece of furniture, the piece should be near the stereo and easy to access. Stooping or stretching to reach your CDs will quickly become tiresome. If it is too dark in the cabinet or drawer to read the labels easily, install a light in the area or stash a small flashlight alongside the discs.

Small bins, baskets and boxes made of materials such as wire, metal, cardboard, wood, wicker and plastic can be found at organizing and housewares stores. They can be used for smaller collections or for organizing larger collections. They look neat and stylish on an open shelf, and they're mobile, which is handy if you have two or more CD players. Even if you have the perfect shelving system for your discs, it's a good idea to have one or two small bins for new CDs or current favorites, the ones you're playing frequently at any given time.

Minimalists can do away with the jewel boxes altogether, and slip their discs and the liner notes into plastic sleeves in flip-though albums made specifically for discs, which take up almost no space at all.

Questions should be addressed to Ask Martha, care of Letters Department, Martha Stewart Living, 11 W. 42nd Street, New York, NY 10036. Questions may also be sent by electronic mail to: Questions of general interest will be answered in this column; Martha Stewart regrets that unpublished letters cannot be answered individually. For more information on the topics covered in the Ask Martha column, visit © Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, Inc. Distributed by New York Times Special Features