Rosemary topiaries shaped like tiny Christmas trees are one of my favorite signs of the approaching holidays, right up there with the appearance of pomegranates, chestnuts and tangerines in the market. I was happy to bring one home last week along with the turkey, and quickly trimmed it up so I could use some of the fresh spikes in a dry garlic-and-herb brine for the bird. Then it went off to sit in a sunny window until needed as a tabletop decoration.

If you purchase a rosemary topiary or receive one for a gift, don’t become overly attached to it. These topiaries have been grown under controlled conditions in a greenhouse for months and aren’t thrilled to be snatched away from their sunny, humid home only to be sent to one considerably drier and darker. It may not recover from the shock, but there are some ways to help it in its transition. First, ditch the foil wrapper or anything else that may be holding in moisture and make sure the pot has at least one hole for drainage. I actually repotted mine in a ceramic pot, but you don’t have to. It’s more important to reduce the effects of relocation shock by setting your tree where it will receive full sun, rotating the pot weekly so that all sides receive sunlight. As rosemary is native to the Mediterranean, it loves heat and sun, dry soil and somewhat humid air – a hard atmosphere to duplicate in our centrally heated interiors. To increase the humidity, place the pot on a shallow, pebble-filled container or tray, adding water so that it does not cover the pebbles. You want your rosemary to have that increased humidity but not soggy soil or roots. Water when the soil dries out a bit but not to the point where the plant is wilting. Just stick your finger about an inch down into the soil. If it feels soggy, wait a couple more days. Then put your plant in the sink and fill it with a couple of inches of water. Let the plant absorb water for about an hour, remove it and let it drain before returning it to its perch on the pebbles.

Prune out dead or browning stems as soon as you spot any, especially toward the inside of the plant. Trim new growth to keep the shape of the topiary throughout the holiday season or you’ll end up with a bush instead of a tree.

As winter progresses, you may notice a white coating on the leaves, a sign of powdery mildew fungus. Powdery mildew is common on rosemary grown indoors but usually disappears when plants are moved outside. It is really not necessary to treat. If you notice white dots on the leaves and webbing on the plant, you probably have spider mites. Put the entire plant in the bathtub and give it a shower. This should reduce the population and it can be repeated as needed. If you’re successful at keeping your tree healthy, when warm weather arrives, you can plant your rosemary outside in a sunny location, in very well-drained soil. Don’t add organic matter or fertilizer; rosemary performs best in poor soil. Remove the plant from the pot and break up the root ball with a sharp knife before planting.

If you’re trimming and shaping your tree throughout the winter, you’ll have a good supply of this wonderful, spicy culinary herb. Use it to make some rosemary butter.

R O S E M A R Y   B U T T E R

2 large or 4 small cloves garlic
Kosher salt
1 tsp. fresh lemon juice
12 tsp. finely chopped fresh rosemary
1 stick butter, at room temperature
Freshly ground black pepper
Peel the garlic cloves, halve them lengthwise and coarsely chop them. Sprinkle with one teaspoon of salt. Using the flat side of a chef’s knife, smear and mash the garlic and salt together to form a smooth paste. Transfer the garlic paste to a small bowl. Add lemon juice and rosemary. Stir to combine. Add the butter and mash together with a fork. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Use immediately or use parchment, waxed paper or plastic wrap to shape the garlic butter into a log, twisting the ends as if it were a sausage. Refrigerate until ready to use. The butter will keep in the refrigerator for up to two weeks or in the freezer for up to a month.

There are many ways to use your rosemary butter. Melt a bit and use it as a sauce for grilled meats and fish. Spread some on sourdough bread and top with roast beef for a tasty sandwich. Toss with steamed vegetables or mix some into freshly cooked rice or pasta, put a knob on a hot baked potato, or melt and toss with bread cubes and then toast them to make croutons.