Reminiscing with longtime friends is one of the joys of the holiday season. We take time to go beyond the “How are you?” “How’s it going?” I was invited to a friends’ house for coffee, treats and a catch-up. My friends live on acreage, and as I pulled into their driveway, I was reminded of all the years they purchased a live Christmas tree, nursed it through the holidays then added the tree to their landscape.
The tradition was observed until their children graduated high school. Looking at the size of the trees now, it is hard to remember they were once small and growing in a nursery black pot. Their tradition of using a live tree is still observed but modified. The same tree has been used for several years. The tree is an appropriate -sized specimen plant whose permanent residence is an outdoor container that is brought indoors to celebrate tradition.
The conversation made me realize I had missed the opportunity to write about the process and care of a live Christmas tree.
The process should really start in the fall by deciding if you have room in your landscape for planting a tree. A classic example is a blue spruce in my landscape planted by a previous owner as a focal point in a rockery. Remember cute little trees eventually grow into big trees that are too overpowering for their space. They definitely should not be used as foundation planting unless you are aware of the mature size. The best use would be creating a living privacy fence which is how my friends have used their plantings.
The ideal situation would be to plan far enough ahead, giving you time to prepare a planting hole before the ground freezes. The planting hole should be three times the diameter of the root ball. The tree should not be planted at a depth deeper than the soil level was in the container. Mix compost in with the native soil. If possible, store the soil-compost mixture in an area that won’t freeze, and cover the hole with boards to prevent an accident.
Your tree will either be balled in burlap or bare rooted in a nursery container. Check the root ball for moisture. If the soil feels dry, place the tree in a tub with 2 to 3 inches of warm water for an hour.
Gradually introduce your live tree from outside temperatures to inside temperature.
Allow three to four days using the garage or enclosed porch for acclimatization. A tree that has been dormant at the nursery and then exposed to immediate warmth will start to grow. You want to avoid resuming active growth.
It’s a good idea to give the tree a good shake dislodging any insect that had settled down for a long winter’s nap.
Place the tree away from direct sources of heat. Remember the black nursery containers have drainage holes at the bottom; think about using an automotive oil pan, which is about 4 inches deep, to be sure there is no moisture damage to your floor. Water your tree as often as necessary to moisten the roots but not keep them soggy. Never water beyond moist. Ice cubes have been suggested as a slow-release water source.
Leave your tree inside no longer than five to seven days. Some experts suggest only four days. Never add nutrients or fertilizers as that may stimulate growth, which you don’t want to occur.
Carefully reintroduce your tree to the outdoors using the procedure in reverse, keeping it in the garage or sheltered porch for several days.
Loosen and remove as much of the burlap as possible on planting day. Also remove any wire or string used to keep the root ball intact. Try to loosen and spread the roots. Add a base of the compost-soil mixture. When planting, keep the root ball at its original planting depth. Spread the roots and finish filling the space. Water with 3 to 5 gallons, allowing the water to seep into the ground.
In the following months, if there’s snow, that will be great for the establishment of the tree. If the dry weather continues, add a few gallons of water every six weeks.
Start keeping a Christmas tree journal. Keep a record of when and where you bought the tree. Did the decorated tree have a special theme? When did you bring the tree into the house? Write about your holiday — the bad along with the good. What did you eat? Whose company did you enjoy?
Keep the journal specifically for Christmas, then when it comes to reminiscing with family or friends, you don’t have to rely on memory. You can just reach for your special journal.