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This week in your Massachusetts garden & landscape

Week of December 5, 2016 By Ron Kujawski

While most people seeking a Christmas tree will opt for a pre-cut tree, others are contemplating getting a live Christmas tree.  Hopefully choosing a live tree is done with the thought of making a long term addition to the outdoor landscape, as opposed to an inane view of a live Christmas tree as one more house plant.  Okay, the latter vision is highly unlikely.  However, you should do some careful planning before buying a live Christmas tree:

  • Select a tree that will be a good addition to your landscape.  Since most tree species sold as living Christmas trees will ultimately attain considerable size, be sure there is a place for it….and not beside the front entrance or as a foundation planting.
  • Evaluate the planting site making sure the tree species selected will grow there.  Ask your nursery sales person for details of the growing requirements for the chosen tree.
  • Be aware that a live tree, whether potted or balled and burlapped –in which case it will have to be placed in a large container of some sort, is quite heavy.  Usually, such trees are about 6 feet tall.  The weight of tree and rootball will require some muscle power to move about.
  • When locating the tree indoors, be sure to keep it away from heat sources; a cool room is best.  Also, treat your tree as a house plant, that is, water the soil in the container regularly.
  • Do not keep the tree indoors for longer than ten days; even a shorter duration of seven days would be wise.  Otherwise, the tree may begin to lose cold hardiness.  When moving the tree outdoors to be planted, first place it in a protected but unheated structure such as a garage or shed for about week.  This will acclimate the tree to the outdoors.
  • With respect to planting the tree outdoors, a hole will have to be dug now before the ground freezes.  Follow standard tree planting procedures.  Basically, that means digging a hole to a depth that is slightly shallower than the vertical dimension of the soil ball, or more specifically, the depth of the hole should result in the trunk flare (part of tree trunk just above the root system) being one inch above ground level when the tree is finally planted.  Also make the width of the hole three times greater than the width of the rootball.   When digging the planting hole, store the dug soil some place where it will not freeze.  You’ll need that soil to backfill the planting hole.
  • What can procrastinators do if the planting hole is not dug before soil freezes?  First, slap your hand upside your head.  Then, move the tree out to an unheated garage or shed after it has completed its duty as Christmas tree.  Leave the tree there until normal planting time for trees and shrubs in spring.  Do check the moisture level of the soil and apply water if the top inch or two of soil feels dry.  Another option is to move the tree outdoors to a protected location after its acclimation time in shed or garage and pile a deep layer of leaves or wood chips around the container.  The tree should keep until spring planting.

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