Helping a Christmas tree live to see spring

For many folks, the weekend after Thanksgiving is the beginning of the Ho! Ho! Ho! season. Many people will be ringing in their holiday season by putting up a Christmas tree, whether it is a cut, faux or living tree.

For those inclined to buy a living tree, be aware! Trees in containers will break dormancy if they are kept in the house more than seven to 10 days. If this occurs, the buds for spring growth will lose their ability to withstand freezing temperatures. These buds will die and greatly reduce the survivability of the tree in the landscape.

If you do keep a living tree in the house longer than seven to 10 days, you may be able to send it back into dormancy by gradually exposing it to colder temperatures over a period of weeks. Initially, move the tree out during the day when temperatures are above freezing and move it back inside at night if temperatures are going down to freezing or below. Once the tree has been acclimated to freezing temperatures again, it can be planted outside.

Can a tree be left outdoors in the container over the winter? Containerized plants freeze, thaw and reheat more easily than in-ground plants. This process is very stressful to the plant. It damages the roots and compromises the plant's ability to absorb water. Try packing snow over and around the container and keeping it in a shady location to reduce the freeze, thaw and reheat cycle. Another protection method is to build a wire cage around the container and fill it with mulch, leaves, straw, or even soil to insulate the roots.

The alternative to moving the tree in and out is to baby it indoors in its container until the temperatures warm up in the early spring, and then plant it. Store it out of freezing temperatures in a location where it will get sunlight. No matter where you decide to keep the tree until you plant it, keep the soil around it moist, without letting it stand in water.

The ideal way to deal with a live tree that is still dormant is to plant it immediately after the holiday is over. Prepare the hole before the ground freezes. If you do not dig the hole in advance, a couple of warm days or a few buckets of hot water should allow you to dig a planting hole in the days following Christmas. Remember to water the tree at planting and give it monthly drinks through the winter.

For more information, e-mail or call me at 887-2252. You can "Ask a Master Gardener" by e-mailing or call your local University of Nevada Cooperative Extension office. Check out many useful horticulture publications at

• JoAnne Skelly is the Carson City/Storey County Extension educator for University of Nevada Cooperative Extension.


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