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Live Christmas Trees can be a Family Tradition
December 10, 2008

Loretta Ortiz-Ribbing, Ph.D.
Extension Specialist, Crop Systems
Macomb Center
480 S Deer Rd
Macomb, IL 61455
Phone: 309-836-3366
FAX: 309-836-2916

As the holiday spirit grows, I must expand on my last suggestion of buying a fresh cut Christmas tree. An alternative to a fresh cut tree, for those who want to plan ahead for next year is to buy a "live" tree.

A "live" or dug tree is a tree purchased to have inside for Christmas. After Christmas it is planted in your landscape to enjoy for years to come. Planting a Christmas tree could become a family tradition.

Planting a Christmas tree in your yard has other advantages. Trees produce oxygen for easy breathing, stabilize soil, provide enjoyment, and offer refuge for wildlife. Should the tree die, it is bio-degradable and can be recycled, whereas artificial trees cannot.

Choosing to purchase and plant a living Christmas tree takes some planning. Following these simple steps will help ensure that the tree will live and survive in the landscape after Christmas. Plan ahead and choose and prepare a planting site before Christmas. Like most trees, Christmas trees like soil that is well drained. The site should also have adequate space and sunlight for tree growth. Make sure the planting site is away from roof overhangs and power lines. Pick a tree species that is hardy in this area. Common species sold as living trees include Scotch, white, and red pines, and blue, Norway, and white spruce. After the site is selected, dig the hole for the tree before the ground freezes. It is a good idea to fill the hole with straw or mulch to keep the soil from freezing. In addition, cover the fill soil that you removed from the hole, so it will not be frozen when you plant the tree.

Consider several points when choosing a tree. Live trees will be balled and burlapped or grown in some type of container or pot. For ease in handling, small trees are better. The growth of the upper portion of a tree is always in relation to the lower (root) portion of the tree. Smaller trees have a greater chance of having a root system of sufficient size to support the tree after planting. So pay more attention to the roots of the tree than the top. The root ball or pot should match the size of the upper portion of the tree. Avoid purchasing trees in pots that are root bound or in pots that are too small in comparison to the upper portion of the tree. Balled trees should have a nice, compact ball.

It is best to purchase a live tree one to two weeks prior to Christmas, and store it in a cool (ideal is 33 to 45 degrees) location. The pot or ball should be kept moist, but not allowed to freeze. Straw mulch could be used to prevent freezing. When moving the tree indoors, keep in mind that the tree should only be indoors for about 5 to 7 days. Otherwise, the tree may begin to grow and this growth and the tree could die when planted outside. Like fresh cut trees, a live tree needs water inside; keep the ball or pot moist but not wet. Placing the ball or pot inside a larger tub will help contain water and avoid floor damage.

Common sense safety when decorating is a must. With live trees, use cool lights instead of heat producing lights, and light weight ornaments that won't damage the branches. Avoid flocking or artificial snow that can block the natural openings in the needles. Make sure the tree is located away from heat vents or fireplaces, as they will quickly dry out needles. After Christmas, the decorations should be removed and the tree should be placed in a cool (not freezing) area for three to four days prior to planting so it can get acclimated to cooler temperatures. The tree can then be planted in the pre-dug hole. Be sure to remove the pot and as much burlap as possible without disturbing the roots. The soil around the tree should be firmly packed and the tree should be well watered and mulched. Placing straw or wood chip mulch around and extending beyond the tree will help reduce temperature fluctuations in the soil.

Live Christmas trees can usually be purchased from a local grower or nursery. Planting a live Christmas tree is a great way to start a tradition that includes the whole family.

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