Monday, December 13, 2010

Think Twice before Choosing a Living Christmas Tree

I have a neighbor who has a couple of HUGE pine trees in his yard. They take up way too much of his yard and look completely out of place. But because of their size, it would be very costly to have them removed. They are the result of good intentions gone awry - living trees which were purchased for Christmas trees and then planted in his yard, without enough thought given to the size that the trees would some day reach.

Many gardeners like the idea of choosing a Christmas tree that can later be planted in their landscape. It seems so environmentally friendly and provides more bang for the buck by allowing you to enjoy the tree year after year rather than just tossing it away after the season.

But before you decide to choose a living tree, keep these things in mind:

1) Make sure you choose a tree which is appropriate for the area. Many living trees which are available through mail-order will not survive in northern climates. Virginia Pines, Eastern White Pines and several cypress and cedar species are suitable options for the Washington, DC metro area.

2) Decide where you will plant the tree. Virginia Pines and White pines can reach heights of up to 80'. Red Cedars can reach heights of 50'. This makes them impractical choices for many home landscapes. Another option would be to find a park or public area that would accept the tree as a donation after the season. If you know of any Arlington, Rockville, DC or other local organizations that would like a donated tree, please let us know by adding a comment at the end of this post.

3) Living trees are much heavier than cut trees. Whether they are in a pot or balled and burlapped, a living tree can weigh well over 100 pounds.

4) If you are going to plant the tree in your yard, you should dig the hole for the tree before the ground freezes. The hole should be 3 times the diameter of the root ball and as deep.

5) Living trees may be more likely to have bugs and other critters living in them. Check closely for insects and insect egg masses before bringing the tree indoors.

6) Ideally, trees should be slowly acclimated to the indoor climate. Gradually introduce your living tree from outside to inside over three or four days via the garage or enclosed porch. A tree that is dormant and exposed to immediate warmth will start to grow. Locate your tree in the coolest part of the room and away from heating ducts.

7) You should limit the time that you have a living tree indoors. Although cut trees can be kept indoors for three weeks or more, the shorter the time a living tree is kept indoors the better. A maximum of 7 to 10 days is recommened. The survival of a living tree is dependent on its winter hardiness. Keeping it indoors for too long will make it less winter hardy.

8) It is important that you water the plant regularly to keep the soil moist. This will add even more weight to the tree.

9) Christmas tree lights may put out heat which will damage the needles of the tree.

10) Planting a tree in winter will require extra care for its survival. Make sure you are ready for that commitment before you purchase the tree.

For more information:
Choose a locally grown Christmas Tree
Selecting and Caring for a Live Christmas Tree (pdf) - MD Cooperative Extension
Marylanders Plant Trees - Recommened tree list and planting suggestions
Care for Living Trees - Virginia Christmas Tree Growers Association
Selection and Care of Christmas Trees - Virginia Cooperative Extension
How to Care for a Live Christmas Tree
Living Christmas Trees (Clemson University)

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