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Taking Care of Your Live Christmas Tree

December means family gatherings, lights on houses, winter sports, and chilly temperatures. Many people will also begin the search for the perfect Christmas tree - whether they “hunt” for it in the wild or at their local tree lot or hardware store. Another option that is often overlooked is purchasing a live tree which extends beyond the last month of the year.Maintaining a Christmas tree that can be planted in your yard after the holiday season requires a little more effort, but is manageable using the following steps.

First, buy a ball-and-burlap or container tree - keep in mind that ideally it should only remain indoors for 7 to 10 days. When you buy the tree, place it in a garage or a shed for a few days to adjust to warmer air. Even with this step, a healthy tree that will be transplanted later requires a cool spot inside, so choose a space near a door or window. Set the tree up in a watertight tub and place ice cubes on top of the root ball as needed to keep roots barely moist and cool. Decorate as you wish, but be sure to use LED lights as they are less likely to heat up and dry out the tree (as compared to their incandescent counterparts). Do not go “Griswold” and buy the largest tree you can possibly find - choose a manageable size as you will have to move it several times, damaging it as little as possible.

After you have enjoyed your indoor cheer, choose a spot outside that the tree will not outgrow (when purchasing the tree, be sure to ask how large it is expected to get, as different trees have varying growth rates). Re-acclimate the tree to cooler air to reduce shock by placing it back in the garage, shed, front or back porch for a few days. If possible, plan ahead and dig the planting hole in late fall, before the ground freezes and digging becomes difficult. Dig the hole twice as wide as the root ball but no deeper. This can take some time, but is worth the effort and will better ensure the transplanting success for the tree. Then, fill the hole with mulch and protect the excavated soil with a tarp. This enhances the soil and ensures that any rain or snowfall won’t cancel out your hard work when you go to transplant the tree.

When the tree has re-acclimated to being outside and you are ready to plant it, choose a mild day and place the tree into the hole. Unwrap the root ball and tuck it into the hole and back-fill with excavated soil, tamping gently. This helps keep the root ball from falling apart which might cause the tree to die. The burlap will decompose in about 2-6 months. Water deeply, then mulch with cotton burr mulch, bark, or gravel. Protect the tree with tarps as needed, as evergreens are vulnerable to wind damage during their first winter. Continue to water every two weeks and keep an eye out for any symptoms of over- or under-watering. These signs include excessive needle-drop, dieback of limbs, and boggy soil around the base. Evergreens require more water in hot months, so don’t neglect your new tree in the summer! Purchasing a live tree is not only a great way to enjoy the holidays, but to also spread that cheer to your yard year round. From the Desert Rose family, Happy Holidays!

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