The Homeowners Column

The Homeowners Column

Add a Living Christmas Tree to Your Holidays

Photo of Sandra Mason

Sandra Mason
Extension Educator, Horticulture
slmason@illinois.edu

Decisions, decisions ... Should it be a live tree or an artificial tree (now called permanent tree) for indoor holiday decorations? The phrase "on the verge of a divorce" is sometimes overheard in reference to this decision. However there is another choice in "permanent" trees that could be a happy compromise. It's a living tree with roots still attached. These trees can provide holiday enjoyment and then be planted outside to become a lasting reminder of the 1999 holiday season.

Here are a few tips to success:

1. Buy the tree as early as possible to obtain the best selection. White pines, blue spruce, white spruce or douglasfir are good choices. If you don't have room in your landscape for these eventually large trees, consider yews, junipers, arborvitae (which means tree of life) or holly.

2. Don't go for the biggest tree on the lot. All the trees will likely have the same size root ball, so the smaller trees may be in better proportion for the quantity of roots.

3. Store the tree in a cool, wind protected area such as an unheated porch or protected area near the house until you are ready to bring the tree into your home. Check the tree weekly for moisture.

4. Dig the hole for the tree now before the ground freezes. Measure from the bottom of the root ball to the trunk flare where the roots end and the trunk begins. Dig the hole to that depth and at least twice as wide. The planting area is more like a basin than a hole. Mulch the planting area with straw or leaves and place a board over the hole so you won't single handedly ruin Christmas by losing Santa in the hole in your back yard.

5. Keep the soil from the hole in a garage where it won't freeze.

6. Place a large trash bag around the root ball so the tree can be watered. Decorative plastic tubs can also be used to hold the tree and tubs with handles will make moving the tree easier. You may wish to use magazines or rolled up newspaper in the bottom of the tub to level the tree.

7. As with cut trees, be sure to keep your live tree away from heat sources such as furnace vents or fireplaces. Keep indoor temperatures as cool as possible such as 60 to 65°F.

8. Decorate the tree with all the usual paraphernalia.

9. Check the tree regularly for moisture by feeling the soil. Water thoroughly, but never let the soil get completely dry or consistently muddy.

10. Keep the tree indoors as short a time as possible such as a week or two.

11. After the holidays plant the tree immediately; using the set aside unfrozen soil. Pull the burlap back and remove if possible. Be sure to remove any twine from around the soil ball and coax roots apart.

12. Firm the soil around the tree and mulch with wood chips or pine needles. Water the soil thoroughly after planting and every month or so if temperatures remain mild and precipitation is light.

Even with all these factors to consider, using living "permanent" evergreens as a part of your holiday tradition is not that difficult. The money spent on a tree will benefit you and your landscape for years to come. And you don't have to find a place to store it the rest of the year.

Check out the extension website for information on christmas treesand local places to purchase cut trees.

Time is running out. Get your applicationfor the Master Gardener Programinto the Champaign Extension office before December 7. Call 333-7672 for more information.

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