Many families we know have a yearly ritual of planting a live tree each Christmas, creating terrific windbreaks or landscape plantings that increase their property value. Quality evergreens are like compound interest; you can start small and they just get bigger and better with each passing year. Getting your children and grandchildren involved sets a terrific example for future generations.
“Live” Christmas trees are evergreens meant to be planted after serving as Christmas decorations. These trees are sold “balled and burlapped”, meaning they are dug rather than cut. Live trees are more expensive than cut trees, and take more work, but the payoff is that they can give you pleasure for many years. It’s hard to find a better value than a living Christmas tree.
Even if you prefer a fake tree inside your house for Christmas, planting a real evergreen tree somewhere on your property each year is a terrific tradition and a lasting legacy. Outdoor Christmas trees are fun to decorate, sharing your Christmas spirit with your neighbors.
Evergreens popular for live Christmas trees include Colorado Blue Spruce, Norway Spruce and dwarf Alberta Spruce. These varieties all make attractive Christmas trees and are good landscape specimens as well. Norway Spruce is very well adapted for clay soil, so it’s easy to find many mature examples in landscapes all around southern Ohio. We recommend Norway Spruce above all other evergreens for windbreak and privacy plantings all year long.
If you plan to bring your live tree indoors you’ll probably want a live tree somewhat smaller than the size you’re used to. A six-foot Spruce with a good-sized root ball can weigh well over 100 pounds, and is bulky and hard to handle. Larger trees weigh even more. Getting a good-sized evergreen in and out of the house, keeping it watered and planting it in the dead of winter can be a lot of work. If the root ball is too small, the tree may be cheaper and lighter but will probably die. The answer is a tree in the four to five-foot range, from a reputable nursery.
If you decide this is for you, here are some suggestions to help you succeed. First, keep the tree inside for two weeks or less. The transition into, and later out of a heated house should be gradual. When you take your tree home, keep it in a garage or screened porch until the week before Christmas. Keep the root ball moist. Spraying it with “Wilt-Pruf” helps reduce moisture loss.
Evergreens are dormant in December, but the heat in your home can fool the tree into thinking it’s spring. Once the sap starts to rise, putting the tree right back outside can shock it. Instead, let it get used to the cold again in your garage before putting it outdoors.
It’s impossible to dug a decent-sized planting hole in frozen ground. We suggest placing a few bags of mulch over the spot where you plan to plant your tree, to keep the ground from freezing. Make sure not to plant it too deep. This will smother it and could kill it. After planting, water the tree well and spread mulch around it to protect the roots. Good luck, and Merry Christmas!
Steve Boehme is a landscape designer/installer specializing in landscape “makeovers.” “Let’s Grow” is published weekly; column archives are on the “Garden Advice” page at www.goodseedfarm.com. For more information is available at www.goodseedfarm.com or call GoodSeed Farm Landscapes at (937) 587-7021.