Volume 14, Issue 49 ~ December 7 - December 13, 2006

The Bay Gardener

By Dr. Frank Gouin

Digging Your Christmas Tree

Living Christmas trees are heavyweights eager to go out

So you’d like to get more use from your Christmas tree by enjoying it indoors during the Christmas season, then making it part of your landscape? You might even be thinking the evergreen could serve as your Christmas tree for, maybe, three years, until it grows too large to move in and out.

Before you buy a growing Christmas tree, consider three factors: weight, water and time indoors. First, buy a tree small enough to transport. Depending on the size of the tree and the root ball, a living Christmas tree can weigh from 40 to 100 pounds.

Second, you’ll need to keep the root ball moist but never flooded. This species cannot tolerate having its roots flooded, especially when the soil is warm. Since many of the roots were cut as they were dug in the nursery, they are more susceptible to root rot diseases.

Third, a live Christmas tree shouldn’t be kept indoors for more than five or six days. These are cold climate trees that need both winter and summer conditions in order to thrive.

Since September, as the daylight hours grew shorter and temperatures cooled, the tree has been undergoing acclimation to cold in preparation for winter. Bringing the plant inside exposes it to constant room temperature conditions, causing it to lose cold hardiness. It takes weeks to accumulate cold hardiness, but it only takes days to lose it. When a tree is moved outdoors again after 10 days inside, if temperatures are below freezing, it may suffer dieback, either killing or severely damaging the tree.

Keeping the tree indoors until spring would also kill the tree, because it needs adequate cold to break dormancy and resume normal growth in the spring.

Managing a Living Evergreen

If you can honor these care rules, here’s how to bring a living Christmas tree home.

Your best bet is to purchase a container-grown Christmas tree.

Otherwise, you’ll need a container large enough for the root ball of your tree. The container should have five or six drainage holes and be large enough for three to four inches of pine bark mulch under the root ball. Place a large pan or saucer under the container to keep excess water from leaking.

Plant the balled and burlapped tree in the container in a one-to-one mixture of garden soil and commercial potting mix, such as Metro Mix or Pro-Mix. Water thoroughly until water drips from the bottom.

Keep the tree in the container outdoors until Christmas Eve and move it back outdoors before New Year’s. During the holiday week, check the root ball daily to see if it has dried out. If the soil feels cool to the touch, there is adequate moisture. But if it feels warm and dry, water thoroughly.

Outside, prepare its permanent home. Before the ground freezes, dig a planting hole within your landscape. For your safety, cover your planting hole with lumber or place barriers around it. If weather predictions indicate severe freezing, store the excavated soil in five-gallon pails in a warm place.

When you plant outdoors, ensure that the top ten percent of the root ball is above grade. Water well and spread four inches of mulch to keep the soil as warm as possible for as long as possible. Next spring, remove all but two inches of the mulch and expand it to three times the diameter of the planting hole.

Ask Dr. Gouin your questions at frgouin@erols.com. All questions will appear in Bay Weekly. Please include your name and address.

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