I’d like to buy a live Christmas tree this year to plant after the holidays. Any tips?
Visit your local garden center in fall while the selection is still good, and choose a potted or balled-and-burlapped (B&B) tree suited to your growing conditions. Many retailers will let you buy a live Christmas tree in fall and pick it up later, closer to the holiday season. When choosing a potted tree, lift the root ball out of the pot to examine the roots — they should be developed enough to hold the soil together without being pot-bound.
Choose a planting site that has good drainage and is far enough away from buildings and other trees to allow for future growth. Dig the planting hole before the soil is expected to freeze. In some areas, that will be before the holidays. Make the hole about the same depth but twice the width of the root ball. Until planting time, store the soil from the hole in a location where it won’t freeze, and fill the hole with straw.
Keep the tree in a protected transitional location, such as on a porch or in an unheated garage, until you’re ready to bring the tree indoors. Keep the root ball moist but not soggy. Plan to keep your potted tree indoors for no more than five to seven days. Warm, dry household conditions will stress it, and could even cause premature bud break, so choose a cool location away from heat vents. Decorate it with natural ornaments that won’t weigh down the branches — garlands of popcorn and cranberries, dried red pepper pods, or small bunches of dried flowers and herbs are ideal. Use small LED lights, which produce less heat and won’t burn the tree’s boughs.
After the holidays, move your potted tree back to its transitional location on the porch or in the garage for a few days before planting. When you’re ready to plant, remove the tree from its pot or loosen (but don’t remove) the burlap bag. Remove any plastic wraps or liners. Gently set the tree in its pre-dug hole. If it’s a B&B tree, fold back the top of the burlap to the bottom of the root ball. Fill the hole with a portion of the dirt that you removed, and use the remaining soil to shape a small mound around the edge of the hole. Cover the soil around the tree with up to 4 inches of mulch, but leave about 3 inches of space between the mulch and the trunk. Finish by thoroughly watering the tree inside the “moat.” Read more about caring for a live Christmas tree at Have a Green Christmas: Live Christmas Trees.
— Vicki Mattern, Contributing Editor
Above: If you want a live Christmas tree, plan ahead and take steps to help it prosper.
Photo By Fotolia/Maria Kutrakova
Vicki Mattern is a contributing editor for MOTHER EARTH NEWS magazine, book editor and freelance magazine writer. She has edited or co-authored seven books on gardening, and lives and works from her home in northwestern Montana. You can find Vicki on Google+.