NORTHERN COLORADO – That magical time of the year is upon us, when we huddle in our homes hoping we don’t have to venture out in the cold. To make ourselves feel better, we cut down and bring a tree in to help us feel connected to the earth. But not everyone is comfortable killing a tree to celebrate a holiday.
In his first year of office, Theodore Roosevelt banned cut Christmas trees in the White House for environmental reasons and a concern over deforestation. And if, like him, you prefer your trees living, planning ahead is the key to success. To keep them healthy, you’ll have to water them, which, in addition to the soil, can make a mess on the Berber carpets. Make sure the location in the home can accommodate a bit of moisture and mud.
Before purchasing the tree, consider the size and weight of what you can handle. The bigger the tree, the heavier it – and it’s rootball – will be. Shop early to find healthy trees, looking for those with deep green needles, but no brown tips, yellowing, or shedding. If possible, check to ensure containerized trees aren’t rootbound by gently laying them on their side and sliding the container down to inspect the roots. For those that are balled and burlapped, look for firm rootballs with no cracking.
As you move the tree from store to car to house, lift it from the bottom of the rootball. Though tempting, don’t use the trunk as a handle to lift the tree, and avoid thumping it down, hard, against the ground. Living trees can be held in the yard until it’s time to bring them inside.
Living trees can’t stay in the house longer than seven days or it compromises their ability to be returned to the wild of your landscaped yard. Have your decorations on hand for when you move the tree into the house so that you make the most of its time inside.
Bringing a tree indoors immediately can result in shock – not from the tree’s response to you housekeeping but from the difference between conditions outside and in. Buffer this by acclimating it in a protected area, such as an unheated garage or enclosed porch. Approximately four days before moving the tree indoors, place it in this holding area to prep it for the move into the home.
Like cut Christmas trees, living ones should be located in a cool spot, away from heating ducts, fireplaces, and space heaters. But one thing this tree needs is sunlight, so ttry to keep it near a sunny window. Pop the rootball into a container that has at least two inches of gravel on the bottom, which will allow for the plant to be watered without it sitting in a puddle. Check the rootball daily to ensure that it is moist, but not soggy.
Once the holiday is over, acclimate the tree to moving back outside by placing it in the sheltered porch or garage for a few days.
If you plan to plant a living tree after the holiday, dig the hole now, before the ground freezes, making it at least twice as wide but no deeper than the rootball. Remove the container and place the tree in the dug hole so the top of the rootball is slightly above ground level. Put some backfill in the hole. Remove any wire and rope from the rootball, then fill with the rest of the backfill. Water heavily to settle the soil, adding more, if necessary, to bring the soil level with the ground.
Mulch the planted area. Water the tree monthly or more, especially if winter is dry, windy, and warm.
Colorado State University Extension, together with Boulder County Parks and Open Space, provides unbiased, research-based information about consumer and family issues, horticulture, natural resources, agriculture and 4-H youth development.
By Carol O’Meara, Colorado State University Extension