Garden Q & A Column: Decorating with Live Christmas Trees

Q. My housemates and I want to purchase a live Christmas tree to bring indoors and decorate. What type of tree should we buy? How do we care for the tree and can we plant it outside after the holidays?

John C, Somerville, MA

A. Yes, you can plant your Christmas tree outside after the holidays. Live evergreen trees that will survive in zones 4-6 are Dwarf Alberta Spruces, Blue Spruce, Yews, and Arborvitaes. Pick a healthy tree that matures to a size appropriate for your yard. The root-ball should be firm and rounded. Before the ground freezes, dig a hole for the tree as deep as its root-ball and twice as wide and fill it with straw or leaves. Bag up the soil and bring it inside so it doesn’t freeze. (If the ground is already frozen, I recommend you wait until next year to use a live Christmas tree)

To transition the tree from the outdoors to a warmer environment, put it in a garage or unheated porch for a couple of days. Then, display the tree indoors in a room as cool as possible. Keep the root-ball evenly moist but not soggy, by placing the tree in a container with sand or gravel at the bottom for good drainage. Water as needed. Turn the tree’s decorative lights on only when you are in the room.

After the holidays, put the tree in the garage or porch again for a few days before you move it outdoors to plant. Then remove any materials that were used to bind the roots and plant the tree in the prepared hole. As you back fill the hole, pack down the soil and put six inches of mulch around the tree, but not up against the trunk. In the spring, fertilize the tree with Holly Tone and water well the first year.

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