University of Vermont Extension 
Department of Plant and Soil Science

December News Article
line
A LIVING TREE KEEPS CHRISTMAS ALIVE
 
Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor
University of Vermont
           
           
If you celebrate Christmas, you’ll undoubtedly have some form of decorated tree.  If you buy a living potted evergreen tree this year, rather than a cut or artificial one, you can plant it outdoors after the holidays.  This way you can enjoy it for years to come, and be helping the environment at the same time since trees use carbon dioxide from the air and produce oxygen. 
           
The first step is to prepare the planting hole before the ground freezes too deeply.  Covering the planting site prior, with lots of leaves or straw, will help retain ground warmth and delay the soil freezing. When selecting a site, consider your overall landscape scheme, and the fact that the tree will need plenty of room to grow.  Then, when digging the hole, store the soil from the hole somewhere where it won't freeze, as in bags in a garage. If left outside, cover soil with leaves or hay to delay freezing, then cover the hole with a board to prevent accidents.
           
Another option is just to place the tree outside after the holidays, with roots left in their container or burlap wrapping.  You can place right in a hole and refill around the roots, or merely protect the roots with a large mound of soil, mulch, compost, or straw covering them.  Then, in spring, you can plant properly, or repot and continue to grow out-of-the-ground. 
           
Select a tree that has been grown in a container, or balled with burlap into a firm root ball. Make sure there are plenty of roots in proportion to the top. Select a tree that is uniformly shaped on all sides, without gaps or holes.  Avoid any tree with foliage that is dried out, brittle, brown-tipped, or otherwise lacking good color.  Beware of “bargain trees” that may be old and stressed. An easily manageable and common size is between two and five feet tall.
           
To transport your tree home, put it in your vehicle, trailer, or back of a pickup.  If not inside your vehicle, wrap it in a tarp or blanket to prevent wind damage and securely tie it down. A windy ride down the road will dry out an evergreen tree, often causing the needles to turn brown and fall off over the next few weeks. 
           
Keep your tree outside in a shady spot out of direct wind, or inside an unheated garage. The trick to keeping it alive is not to break its dormancy with too much heat, and to avoid extreme temperature changes.  Water with a pail of water every two to three days, but don’t allow the root mass or container to continually sit in water as roots will rot.
           
Indoors, choose a spot away from stoves, heating units, and drafts.  A cool room is best, perhaps 65 to 68 degrees in day, less at night. Use plastic, an upside down garbage lid, or similar under the tree to protect the floor. Water every day or two, wetting the soil ball directly.
           
To keep your tree healthy, decorate only with small lights (such as LED) that will generate little heat. And don't leave the tree indoors for more than a week, five days is better. Any longer, and the tree may begin to grow and can't be planted outside without severe injury.
           
Before you plant your tree outdoors, move it back into the garage or other sheltered area for a week or so to acclimate it to outdoor temperatures. Continue to keep the soil ball moist. Then, if you can, plant the tree during a mild period. Be sure to loosen the string around the base of the trunk if roots are wrapped in burlap. You won't need to remove the burlap, however, as it will rot as the tree grows, unless the string and burlap are the plastic-coated kind.
           
In late April, after all danger of frost has past, fertilize your tree with an all-purpose fertilizer. Treat it well, and it will serve as a reminder of this Christmas for years to come.
     

Return to Perry's Perennial Pages, Articles uvmext logo