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Tips for buying your live Christmas tree

Live trees serves as living memories of holidays past. (C) iStockphoto.com

Live trees serve as living memories of holidays past. (C) iStockphoto.com

A live Christmas tree landscapes the yard with an earth friendly reminder of the holiday. But celebrating the season with a live Christmas tree takes planning and, in this case, muscle.

Living Christmas trees are grown in containers or they are dug and the root ball is wrapped in burlap, called balled-and-burlapped. The larger the container or the root ball, the heavier the tree and the more awkward to move.

  • Select a tree suited for its landscape spot, such as sun or shade. Ask the grower or retailer about the mature size of the tree and make sure that it has room to grow in the landscape. Avoid handling the specimen by its trunk so that you don’t loosen the tree from the root ball.

At home, prepare the planting hole before the ground freezes. Dig a hole no deeper than the tree was growing in its container or in the ground before being dug, but at least twice as wide as the root ball. It’s best to plant a little high rather than too deep.

  • Keep the soil you dug from freezing. Pile the dirt on a tarp or in a wheelbarrow and stow it in protected area, such as an unheated garage. Or, you can place leaves or straw bales on top of the soil to keep it from freezing.
  • Protect  the hole from freezing. Fill the hole with leaves or straw and cover it with a piece of wood or straw bale. The cover ensures someone won’t accidentally trip or fall in the hole.
  • If you don’t want to dig now, keep the spot from freezing by heavily mulching the area with leaves, shredded bark or bales of straw. Remove the mulch and dig the hole when ready to plant.
  • At home, gradually acclimate the tree by keeping it in an unheated garage or enclosed porch for three days before moving it indoors. Place the tree in a leak proof container. The root ball should stay moist but not wet. Keep the tree in the coolest indoor spot you’ve got and away from a heat source.
  • Don’t keep the tree indoors for more than three to five days because the warm temperatures will encourage it to break dormancy. Once that happens, the tree will be susceptible to winter damage when transplanted outdoors. When moving the tree outdoors, you will need to acclimate it again as you did before.
  • When planting, remove the container or the burlap and any string or metal from the root ball. Don’t amend the soil when planting the tree. Backfill with the soil dug from the hole. It’s best not to water if the ground surrounding the planting hole is frozen. If the soil is not frozen, water the newly planted tree. Do not fertilize.
  • Mulch the planted area with a couple of inches of shredded bark, wood chips, compost or leaves. To keep the tree from drying out indoors and at planting time, many experts recommend an application of an anti-desiccant spray, such as Wilt-Pruf. Always read and follow the label directions.

Resources:

Purdue University’s Living Christmas Trees for the Holiday and Beyond

Iowa State University’s Live Christmas Trees

Tips for First-time Buyers of Real Christmas Trees

Originally published at this site Nov. 1. 2009

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