Christmas Tree Plant
Kalanchoe laciniata (Christmas Tree Plant)
Kalanchoe laciniata (Christmas Tree Plant) is a succulent with reddish, erect, usually simple stems and fleshy, green leaves very variable…
How to Decorate with a Live Christmas Tree That You Can Plant Afterwards
Enjoy your evergreen indoors for the holidays, then let it add beauty to your landscape for decades. Use these tips to successfully make the transition.
There's something about a cut live Christmas tree that feels instantly festive. But once the holidays are over, you're left with a needle-shedding dead plant to toss out. Another option is to decorate with a potted tree that you can stash your gifts under, and then plant out in your yard once you've removed all the tinsel and baubles. Then, your living Christmas tree will provide beauty for years to come in your landscape, as well as food and shelter for birds and other wildlife for years to come. Timing and plant selection are key to successfully transitioning your Tannenbaum to the outdoors. Here's what you need to know to ensure your tree ends up being the gift that keeps on giving.
How to Plant Your Christmas Tree
Before you even buy the Christmas tree you will be replanting, you may also want to consider digging the hole that you will be planting the Christmas tree in. Chances are the ground will not yet be frozen at that time and by the time Christmas is over the chances that the ground will be frozen will have increased. Having a hole ready will help the chances that your tree will survive.
When you plan on planting a Christmas tree, you need to make sure to purchase a live Christmas tree that has been sold with the root ball still intact. Typically, the root ball will come covered by a piece of burlap. Once a tree is cut from the root ball, it can no longer be planted outside, so make sure that the trunk and the root ball of the Christmas tree remain undamaged.
Consider buying a smaller tree as well. A smaller tree will go through the transition from outdoors to indoors to outdoors again.
When you decide to replant a Christmas tree outside after the holidays, you also need to accept that you will not be able to enjoy the tree indoors as long as you would a cut tree. This is because indoor conditions can put a live Christmas tree at risk. Expect that your Christmas tree will only be able to be in the house for 1 to 1 ½ weeks. Any longer than this, you reduce the chance that your Christmas tree will be able to adapt to the conditions outside again.
When planting a Christmas tree, start by keeping the tree outside in a cold and sheltered place. When you buy your Christmas tree, it has been harvested in the cold and has already gone into dormancy. You need to keep it in that dormant state to help it survive being replanted. Keeping it in a cold place outside until you are ready to bring it indoors will help with this.
Once you bring your live Christmas tree indoors, place it in a draft free location away from heaters and vents. Wrap the root ball in plastic or wet sphagnum moss. The root ball must stay damp the entire time the tree is in the house. Some people suggest using ice cubes or daily watering to help keep the root ball moist.
Once Christmas is over, move the Christmas tree you intend to replant back outside. Place the tree back into the cold, sheltered area for a week or two so that the tree can re-enter dormancy if it has started to come out of dormancy while it was in the house.
Now you are ready to replant your Christmas tree. Remove the burlap and any other coverings on the root ball. Place the Christmas tree in the hole and backfill the hole. Then cover the hole with several inches (5 to 10 cm.) of mulch and water the tree. You do not need to fertilize at this time. Fertilize the tree in the spring.
DIY: Plant Your Christmas Tree in the Garden
Ever been intrigued by the idea of a live Christmas tree that you can plant in your yard after the holidays? Us too. We decided to give it a try.
For help, I turned to my local experts at Stonegate Gardens in historic Lincoln, MA, (who earlier this fall did a beautiful job planting my new hornbeam trees). My first question of owner Lynne Bower was, does she even recommend it? “Yes, absolutely!” was her answer, “though there are some important things to consider…”
Photography by Justine Hand, except where noted.
Above: Baby Blue Eyed Spruce, shown here via Myers Landscape Nursery in Indiana, is an excellent choice for a live Christmas tree.
One of the benefits of a living tree is you open yourself up to a lot more options than the cut trees on offer at most places. Lynne recommends: Colorado spruce “with its perfectly layered shape,” Austrian pine “which looks like a mini Ponderosa pine,” and Alberta spruce “cute, cuddly, and bushy.” She also likes Vanderwolf Pine, which is long-needled like a ponderosa pine, but the topsides of the needles are blue like a spruce, the undersides showing a noticeably white color.
Above: Because our yard is shady along the border where we wanted to plant the tree, we chose a shade-tolerant giant thuja, which will reach about 30 feet when mature. Price: $98.
Before you fall in love with one of the trees mentioned above, however, consider several factors. First, what is your climate or zone? In the Northeast spruces and firs do better, while milder climates may prefer cypress and cedar. Second, where do you want to plant your tree? Though your new tree is a cute 4 to 6 feet high now, many species of evergreen can reach towering heights. Do you have room for that much tree? (If not, consider a dwarf tree.) Third, what growing conditions exist in your chosen spot? Many evergreens need sun to thrive or good drainage. Your local nursery expert can help identify the right choice for you.
Also, don’t choose a tree that’s too large. According to a great article in This Old House, a 6-foot tree with a root ball can weigh up to 250 pounds! Our tree was only 5 feet tall and it took all my (rather burly) husband had to haul it around.
Above: We wrapped the base of our tree in plastic to protect the floor from dirt and water. You can also use a vinyl saucer.
Inside environments are quite drying for a tree, so Lynne recommends checking daily to make sure the soil always stays moist. (Avoid saturating it, though, since the heavier the base is, the harder it will be to move it outside.) Ice cubes are an ideal option because they act like an artificial drip system and keep the roots cool.
Above: An antique linen sheet did the trick of hiding the plastic quite nicely.
Above: We placed our tree by a window where it is cooler, but not in direct sun, and far from a drying heater.
There are several other steps to take in order to protect your tree from the dry indoors. Lynne recommends placing it at least 10 feet from a wood stove or fireplace. Avoid sunny windows and do not place a tree where it will receive direct flow of heat from a furnace vent. Lynne also suggests spraying the needles with Anti-Stress 2000 (a 1-quart jug of concentrate is $29.95 from Amazon) plant protector, a clear polymer anti-transpirant. It slows the tree’s evaporative loss of water through its needles.
Above: We were inspired to decorate our living tree with natural ornaments: nuts and leaves that we gilded. See our how-to later today.
Above: For about ten days, our thuja complemented a centerpiece of paperwhites and succulents in our dining room. Then it was time to move our tree outside.
Because the warm, dry indoor climate can seriously compromise the trees chances of survival once outside, Lynne advises that live trees be kept inside no more than 10 days, tops! Before planting, Lynne suggests that you transfer the tree to an unheated garage or just a protected area around the house to acclimate for one week. Be sure to keep your tree watered during this time.
Above: Our hole, dug to just the depth of our tree’s container and twice the width.
Pick a day of relative warmth and thaw to plant your tree. Dig your hole to the same depth of the root ball or container so that after the tree is planted the stem sits in the ground at the same height as it did in the nursery. Make your hole at least twice as wide as your container or root ball to give the roots a chance to spread.
Note: If you live in northern areas where the ground will be frozen solid by Christmas, you can prep your hole in the late fall. This comprehensive article by This Old House advises using leaves to mulch both the hole and the dirt pile, covering them with a tarp to keep from freezing solid.
Above: Freeing our tree from its plastic bucket, we placed it in the hole and gently loosened the bound roots. If your tree came with a root ball, be sure to remove this completely or as much as possible, to prevent the burlap from wicking away moisture from the roots.
Above: After our tree was planted, we built a small water-retaining wall around the base.
After you have positioned the tree in the hole, fill it with loose dirt, making sure that the tree sits at the same level as in its container. Note that you should not fertilize your tree now. It is dormant, and you don’t want to encourage fragile new growth before the proper growing season. (Come spring, you can fertilize your tree with tree food.)
Your newly planted tree should receive a good soak. We made a small moat to concentrate the water around the roots. (This should be removed in spring.) Water your tree again at least twice a month throughout the winter, then once a week during the growing season.
Above: Newly planted, our giant thuja will delight us for years to come.
Finally, give your tree a nice insulating layer by applying about 3 inches of mulch. (I used leaves.) Lynne also reminds that snow can cause a tree to bend, so she advises staking it before the first snowfall.
If you’re still not sure about a live tree, here’s a quick and easy chart delineating the pros and cons:
How to plant a Christmas tree in your garden
Your tree with its nice root ball must be planted as soon as possible after Christmas. Definitely no later than the first day of the New Year. You can keep it in a pot of compost, as long as it’s kept in the cold and damp. Alternatively, you can plant it in the ground.
You’ll need a nice deep hole, around 30cm (1ft) deep by a metre (3ft) wide. Loosen the bottom and sides and place the tree in the centre. Pack the soil around the roots and firm it all down well. Give it a generous watering, then keep it watered throughout the winter and first year. You’ll need to mulch it well too for five years.
To protect against the wind, stake the tree with a post set at an angle of 45 degrees. You can remove this after three years, by which time the tree should have developed its own wind defence.
It is important to follow the correct process when planting a Christmas tree.