Replanting Christmas Trees

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PHOTO: MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF
Replanting a Christmas tree begins with digging a hole that's about 1 1/2 times larger than the root mass and gently lowering the sapling into place. (If your area has early freezes, you may have to dig the hole a few weeks before the holidays, store the dirt indoors, and fill the hole with straw until planting time.)

In the restful aftermath of the holidays that sets in
toward the end of December, a person can walk through just
about any neighborhood and see dozens of bedraggled “used”
Christmas trees dumped beside the road to await trash
collectors. A custom that was originally meant to provide a
reminder of the sleeping promise of spring in the dead of
winter has now become yet another symbol of our throw-away
society.

However, you can avoid such waste by purchasing a
living tree, one with its roots intact in a
burlap-wrapped ball of earth. Live evergreens not only
remain beautiful throughout the festive season (unlike cut Christmas
trees, which tend to dry out rapidly), but can be
replanted once they’ve served their holiday
function. By replanting Christmas trees, you’ll create a permanent, living
reminder of one of the year’s most joyful family occasions
and improve the value of your property, establish a
new windbreak, or provide some welcome summer shade in the
process.

If the transplant is to be successful, though, certain
guidelines will have to be followed. These “rules”
start to come into play as soon as you visit the Christmas
tree lot or nursery. Most horticulturists agree that fir,
spruce, and pine are all good candidates for post-holiday
planting. Actually, almost any variety of tree except hemlocks–as
long as its roots are wrapped in burlap–will adapt
well to transplantation.

Choose a healthy specimen with long, full branches and a
large earth ball that’s not frozen. Expect to pay
$35 to $40 (or more in large cities) for a four- or
five-foot tree. Once you’ve brought home your handsome
selection, you’ll need to “break it in” by leaving it in a
cool, slightly damp area (such as a garage or basement) for
three or four days to lessen the shock of the transition
from outdoors to in. During this interim period, keep the
root ball covered with straw, peat moss, or an old blanket.

When you carry the tree indoors, stand it in a large
washtub (or similar container) and pack sawdust, peat moss,
or even shredded newspapers around the trunk to help hold
it upright. An old cloth draped over the earth ball will
help the roots retain moisture. (To hide the tub and its
contents, simply drape a decorative tree skirt over and
around it.)

Most gardening authorities advise that you keep your living
evergreen in the house for only a week to ten days, and
certainly no more than two weeks. Try to place it near a
window and away from the warm, dry air escaping from heat
vents, fireplaces, and woodstoves. Most of the plant’s
roots will be close to the top of the earth ball, so be
sure to keep that area moist at all times. An average-sized
tree will require about one quart of water a day while it’s
indoors. You can trim a live evergreen with any sort of
decorations you’d like, but you might want to use
electric lights sparingly, since the heat generated by even
tiny bulbs will tend to dry out a conifer’s needles.

Finally, when you want to move the greenery out of the
living room after Christmas, it’s a good idea to give it
another transitional stay in the garage before
transplanting. Once the evergreen is ready to brave the
outdoors again, be sure your chosen planting site is far
enough from buildings and other trees to allow for future
growth.

If your Christmas tree is carefully planted and cared for,
you can expect it to begin an annual tradition that will
continue to beautify your land in the years to come and
serve as a happy reminder of past holiday celebrations.