Every year at this time, I remind people about caring for living Christmas trees. A living Christmas tree brightens the holiday season and then adds long-term beauty to a home landscape, reminding the family of holiday joys. However, proper care for a living Christmas tree is necessary to keep it healthy. Here are a few tips for success with your live tree.
Check the moisture content of the root ball daily. Water it when the top 2-3 inches of soil feels dry. Be sure to have a plastic saucer under the tree to catch any excess water and to prevent damage to the floor. Set the container up on rocks or another upside-down saucer to prevent the plant from sitting in water.
Live trees can break dormancy if kept in the house for more than seven to 10 days. If a tree breaks dormancy, it will lose its ability to withstand freezing temperatures and the buds may die when you take it outdoors. Trees with dead buds are unlikely to survive.
If you have kept a living tree in the house longer than seven to 10 days and wonder what to do with it after Christmas, keep it out of freezing temperatures in a location where it will get sunlight. Keep the soil moderately moist until you are able to plant it outside after the weather has warmed up. You may be able to send a tree back into dormancy by gradually exposing it to colder and colder temperatures over a period of weeks. Then it could be planted outside.
The ideal way to deal with a live tree that still is dormant is to plant it immediately after Christmas. It will help if you prepared the hole before the ground froze. If you did 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.
The alternative is to baby the tree outside in its container until you can plant it. Note that containerized plants freeze, thaw and refreeze more easily than in-ground plants. This process is very stressful to a plant because it damages the root ball, which compromises the tree'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, refreeze 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 plant's roots. Keep the soil moist until planting without letting the tree stand in water.
Enjoy the winter!
• JoAnne Skelly is the Carson City/Storey County Extension educator for University of Nevada Cooperative Extension and may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 887-2252.