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Caring for a Live Christmas Tree


Caring for a Live Christmas Tree Photo: Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images News

An increasingly popular option for Christmas trees is purchasing a live tree, to be planted on your property after the holidays. With a live tree, you have to consider more than what type of tree appeals to you.


Points to Consider

  • What type of tree do you want planted on your property? A dwarf evergreen may be a better choice for a small yard or maybe a yew, juniper, arborvitae or even a holly.


  • Mature Size Along with color and texture you'll need to consider the tree’s growth rate and what its height and width will be at maturity. Fir is excellent as a cut tree, but it might not find ideal growing conditions in your yard. Pines make very good Christmas trees, but they will get very tall and as they grow, the distance from ground to the first branches increases.


  • What grows well in your area? White and Scotch pine are popularly grown, but White pines currently are suffering from decline. Norway spruce is used as a cut Christmas tree, but it's needles don't retain water well and you could have problems with a live specimen drying out while it is in your home.


  • Survival Rate. Don't select the largest tree. Smaller trees may be in better proportion to the size of the root ball and stand a better chance of survival. Whatever variety you choose, only consider trees that have been recently dug or were container-grown and that look healthy. Many times the bargain trees are leftovers from the growing season. They may be in a stressed condition and might not recover.


  • Remember, most digging stops when the ground freezes, so you may have to pre-order a tree in the fall. Container grown trees circumvent this problem.



Caring for a Live Tree

  • Store the tree in a cool area, protected from winds, freezing temperatures and direct sunlight.


  • Check often to be sure the root ball does not dry out.


  • Once inside, keep the tree away from sources of heat such as radiators, vents or fireplaces. It will still do best in cool temperatures around 60 to 65 degrees F.


  • It's best to keep the tree indoors for as brief a time as possible, not more than two weeks.



Planting Your Tree Outside

  • To plant your tree after Christmas you will need to dig the hole earlier, before the ground freezes. The depth of the hole should be the measurement from the bottom of the root ball to the soil level. The width should be twice the width of the root ball.


  • Place the soil you remove in a container or tarp and store until you need it to cover the planted tree. It's a good idea to keep the hole mulched and covered so it doesn't fill in or freeze. You might want to mark its location, too.


  • Do not add amendments only within the hole, as this will discourage the roots from reaching out. If the soil in the area is not fertile and well-drained, an area about 3 times the root ball should be amended in advance.


  • Plant the tree at the same depth it was grown at the nursery or in the container.


  • Once the tree is placed in the hole, remove any plastic or burlap wrapping.


  • Try to loosen the outside roots and direct them outward.


  • Refill the hole with the soil you saved and gently heel it in.


  • Water the soil thoroughly after planting and every month or so if temperatures remain mild and precipitation is light and especially if there is a thaw.


  • Once the ground around the tree has frozen, apply about 3-6 inches of mulch.


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