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Success with Live Christmas Trees

A Living Holiday Tree Tradition: Success with Live Christmas Trees

by Monika Roth

The tradition of bringing evergreens into the home during the holidays is an ancient one. Consider enhancing the pleasure by visiting a local Christmas tree farm to select the perfect tree that you will cut and bring home. Or start a tradition of choosing a live tree to plant in your yard after the holiday. If this is a tradition you want to start, special care will be needed to make sure the tree lives beyond the holiday and for years to come. One drawback to selecting a live tree is that it may be more expensive than one you cut, but it lasts longer. Also, a container or B&B tree will not be as large as trees you cut or buy off a lot.

Here are some tips for ensuring successful live tree planting:

  • First, consider where in the landscape you will plant your tree. The traditional Christmas trees like firs, spruces, and Scotch pine, become very large when mature. Select an open area where there are no overhanging tree branches or wires. If you don't have such a site, select a dwarf conifer or evergreen shrub.
  • When you visit a nursery or garden center, you will find a variety of evergreens to choose from. Trees are sold in containers or wrapped with burlap (B&B). Some Christmas tree growers dig trees for sale or allow you to dig your own.
  • Before the ground freezes, dig a hole large enough to accommodate the root ball and fill it with leaves or straw to keep it from freezing as the temperature drops. Store the soil you remove where it will not freeze. If you are not sure of the permanent location for the tree, you can plant it in a temporary spot in your vegetable garden or other site until spring and replant it in its final location.
  • Keep the tree in a cool place like a garage or porch before bringing it indoors; water as necessary.
  • The ideal way of handling a live tree is to keep it indoors for as short a period as possible, 4-7 days at most. If left inside for too long, it may be injured when returned outdoors. Place a plastic bag around the roots to reduce moisture loss and avoid damaging your floor. Keep the tree away from radiators or other heat sources. Room temperatures of 65 degrees or lower are best. Water to keep the roots from drying out.
  • After the holidays, take the tree back to the garage or porch for about a week before planting.
  • When you are ready to plant, remove the organic material from the hole, position the tree and level. If you have a B&B tree, cut the rope and fold back the burlap from the top of the ball. Fill the area around the root ball with the stored soil, tamping it down as you fill, then water thoroughly and apply a woodchip mulch.
  • Wrapping the tree with burlap and watering during warm spells will reduce moisture loss.
  • If snow prevents you from planting your tree, keep it in an unheated garage, porch or protected area away from sun and wind. Keep the root ball watered, then plant in spring.

With appropriate care and planting you will be able to enjoy your tree for years to come.

Monika Roth is an Agricultural Extension Educator with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Tompkins County.