Over the last several years, the popularity of live or living Christmas trees has been on the rise. But many of these trees don’t survive the holiday season. Knowing how to choose, plant, and care for a live Christmas tree will make for a happier holiday, and a valuable addition to your landscape.
When purchasing your live tree, be sure to pick a variety that will grow well in your area. Consider the mature height and width of the tree and know where you will plant it in your landscape. The most common tree species used for living Christmas trees include Spruce, Pines and Firs, although many garden centers market any cone-shaped tree as an option for Christmas. Although these may not be considered “traditional” choices, they may be the best option for your area.
Before you bring the tree home, make sure you’re buying healthy stock. Many trees sold for Christmas, could be leftovers from earlier seasons, or could be in poor shape. Check the tree for good color and needle retention, soft flexible branching, and a root system, if you can see it, that isn’t “bound” by its container. The root area should be moist, and not overly dry from lack of water. Also, look you tree over for any signs of disease or pest damage.
Once your tree makes it home, it needs to stay outside, in a protected area, until a few days before Christmas. Water the tree immediately and make sure the soil is kept moist, but not wet. It also needs to be sheltered from high winds and full sun. The objective for this time is to acclimate your tree to warmer temperatures over a period of three to four days. Moving the tree onto a covered porch or garage during the interim is a good transitional place.
Many people choose to spray their live tree with an anitdessicant or antiwilt product. These products will help retain valuable moisture in the tree, and reduce needle loss, once the tree is moved indoors. If you choose this option, do so before the tree is moved inside, and while it is acclimating to the warmer temperatures. These products are sold under several names, including Wilt Pruf and Cloud Cover.
Avoid the temptation to bring your tree indoors too early. In fact, the less time indoors the better. One or two days before Christmas is best, but no more than a week! Your home is an inhospitable environment for a living tree. Climate controlled homes are warm and dry. Don’t place your tree near heat vents, radiators, stoves, or anywhere else where heat can dry out your tree, and stimulate new growth. Be sure to keep an eye on the soil and keep it moist. If the root ball is wrapped in burlap, place it in a large tub, and add mulch up to the top of the burlap to help retain moisture.
Move your tree back outdoors as soon as possible after Christmas. However, don’t immediately plant it. The tree will need to readjust to the outdoors in a protected area for several days. Again, avoid direct sun, high winds, and warm areas when storing your tree. Be sure to maintain soil moisture. In a week or 10 days, move your tree into the planting hole in your landscape.
A good idea is to have already prepared the planting site. This is especially important in areas of the country where the ground may already be frozen. Plant this tree as you would any other, following sound planting practices. The hole should be at least twice as wide as the root ball, but no deeper. Planting your tree slightly higher than the surrounding soil will help with drainage. It is not advisable to amend your planting hole with organic matter. Rather, backfill with the original soil.
Finally, be sure to water and mulch your tree to retain moisture. Continue to monitor soil moisture. Winter conditions can be very dry, and your plants and trees need water now as well, especially newly planted ones. The proper care and planning, before and after the holidays, will help ensure your tree survives for years to come.