Purchasing a freshly cut Christmas tree, wreaths and greenery each year is not a profligate waste of resources, but specifically helps Christmas tree growers and the Ag industry in general. Just think of cut trees as longer-term cabbages specifically planted by tree farmers to be harvested in seven years or so. After the holidays put discarded trees to good use as habitat for wildlife, or chipped, shredded and turned into compost, thus recycling their nutrients and minerals and enriching the earth.
On the other hand, choosing a live Christmas tree is becoming increasingly popular. Growing up, it was rare to see a potted or container Christmas tree decorated yet still growing, except for my best friend’s family. Their increasingly crowded backyard had a succession of spruce trees in graduated sizes planted in each previous year.
Lately, the popularity of live Christmas trees has been on the rise. The problem is that many of these trees don’t survive the holiday season or don’t fit the landscape plan if they do survive. Choose a tree appropriate for the climate, care for it correctly while it is decorated, and afterward, use it to good advantage and site it correctly when planting in the landscape.
When shopping for the tree, consider its mature height and width and plan ahead to decide where it will be planted in the landscape. Savvy gardeners and landscapers dig the hole before they ever go shopping for a tree.
When selecting a tree, choose only healthy stock and not stressed leftovers from last season. Consider good color, good branching structure and flexible limbs. Knock the plant out of the container and look for non-pot bound, non-circling root systems with fresh white feeder roots. The potting mix should be moist, and there should be no disease or insect damage evident.
Choose only from varieties that grow well in the area. While fir, spruce and pine are traditionally used for cut trees, they are not suited for all climate zones. Garden Centers often market a wide variety of cone-shaped trees as holiday options, so choose the one that’s best for the area and the specific landscape, even though it may not be a traditional choice. This is the time to be thinking “outside the box”. What about a broad leaf holly, Christmas Jewel(R) Holly PP14477 (at right) or Teddy Bear(R) Magnolia PP13049 above right?
Another possibility is a dogwood, redbud, flowering cherry, deciduous magnolia or double file viburnum to decorate? Ornaments would look terrific hanging from bare branches, and one of those might be just the accent plant the landscape needs. What about a cone-shaped rosemary or bay tree? Even a balled & burlapped selection is ok; merely place in a large tub and cover with mulch to keep evenly moist.
Don’t fail to include the Tropicals section in your search for a living Christmas tree. The Norfolk Island Pine is “nearly traditional,” and one year I didn’t even shop but decorated our oversize Monstera deliciosa with a choice selection of my Mom’s vintage ornaments. It’s the season!
If a hardy tree is selected, don’t bring it inside right away, but keep it outside in a protected area until a few days before Christmas. Keep the soil moist but not wet and sheltered from winds and full sun. Acclimate the tree to warmer temperatures by moving it onto a covered porch or garage over a period of three to four days.
For needle-leaf or broad-leaf evergreens, decrease transpiration from the leaf surfaces and retain valuable moisture within the tree by spraying with an anti-desiccant/anti-wilt product. A couple of brand names are Wilt Pruf or Cloud Cover.
A living tree that soon will be returned to winter temperatures outside cannot be brought indoors for weeks on end without consequences. Warm rooms with low humidity can cause drying out or dormant buds to break and grow in a “false spring,” only to die when moved back outside. Avoid bringing the tree indoors too early, since the less time spent in hot, dry indoor temperatures the better, and certainly no more than a week. Avoid placing near heat vents, forced air, radiators, stoves, but do consider a window where it will get some sunlight. Keep soil moist.
After Christmas move the tree back outdoors to that protected area so it can readjust for a week or so. When there’s a break in the weather, follow recommended planting procdures, with a wide, shallow planting hole about twice as wide as the root ball, but not deeper. Plant slightly higher than the surrounding soil because it will soon settle, backfill with the native soil and mulch the tree to retain moisture. Newly planted trees need even moisture, so water throughout winter and spring. The new addition will contribute holiday memories as it adds beauty to the landscape.