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Rhonda Ferree's ILRiverHort

Rhonda Ferree's Horticulture Blog

Live Christmas Trees Can Live Years in Your Landscape


If you plan to add an evergreen tree to your landscape next year, consider using it as a Christmas tree now. Unfortunately, this isn't as easy as it sounds. It requires some planning ahead, and only allows a Christmas tree in your home for a few days.

Many trees used as Christmas trees also make good landscape trees. We typically think of pines, firs, and spruces when talking about Christmas trees, but when choosing a live tree, there are some additional options. Live specimens of arborvitaes, yews, and even hollies can be decorated for Christmas and then planted outdoors. Choose a tree that fits your site specifications and space requirements.

Most sources encourage homeowners interested in live Christmas trees to dig the hole sometime in the fall before the ground freezes. In many places, it might still be possible to dig a hole. Once dug, fill it with mulch or straw, and store the soil in the garage or shed until ready to plant.

One bonus or drawback to having a live Christmas -tree, depending on your viewpoint, is that you can't keep the tree indoors for more than a week under ideal circumstances. Keeping a live Christmas tree alive depends on not letting it break dormancy. If done properly, the tree is basically asleep while it plays its role as your Christmas tree, and is later planted in the yard like nothing ever happened.

Your live Christmas tree needs to be gradually introduced to your home to keep it in dormancy. This can be done by placing it in a sheltered but unheated space such as a porch or garage for about three to four days. During this time, it is a good idea to spray the tree with an anti-desiccant, available at many garden centers. This helps maintain moisture in the tree's needles while it is inside.

When placing your tree indoors, try and locate it as far from heat sources as possible. An ideal location would be in the coolest part of the room. Avoid decorating with lights that generate a lot of heat, as this may damage the tree and even start to bring it out of dormancy. Keep the root ball moist at all times, being sure to protect your floors from water damage. Do not use any fertilizers when watering, as this too may encourage the tree to break dormancy.

Do not keep the tree indoors for more than about a week, to keep it from breaking dormancy. After that, reverse the process by storing the tree in a protected but unheated spot for another three to four days, unless it is extremely cold, in which case it is best to wait until a relatively mild winter day. Remember to keep the roots moist during this time.

Plant the tree in your pre-dug hole, which should resemble a shallow bowl rather than a hole. Water and mulch the tree well to give it the best chance at survival. With any luck, your family will have a living remembrance of Christmas 2016.

For more information is found on the University of Illinois Extension Christmas Tree & More website at http://extension.illinois.edu/trees.



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