Garden with a Winner!™

December 9, 2018- Living Christmas Tree

The holiday season brings a different sense for the garden centres and nurseries. Hustle and bustle of the spring season ebbs into a much more reasonable pace with great gifting ideas around every corner. The Christmas tree is a tradition for a great many people in Canada and of late, living trees as opposed to cut/harvested trees. It is important to keep in mind however, that the tree farms which produce an abundance of carefully sheared and modelled trees for the season, typically are on marginal lands. Often, the tree farm business is secondary or adjunct to the property owners’ primary purpose. Hilly and rocky lands that don’t lend themselves easily to cultivation for grain or hay crops, steep inclines and awkward, small pastures are likely to be used. There is absolutely nothing wrong with selecting a harvested tree for the holiday season, but in many regions of the country the option of purchasing a living Christmas tree exists.

Living Christmas trees provide the purchaser with the opportunity to expand their landscape after filling the purpose of a Christmas tree indoors. As delightfully environmental as this may sound, the actual results are often less than desired because there is a lot of work and planning ahead of time to ensure survivability. Right off the bat if you want to keep a tree indoors for several weeks to span the holidays, don’t consider a living tree. The optimum time that a living specimen should be in warm, room temperatures is three to five days. Subjecting an outdoor tree that has already instituted dormancy to room temperatures is a huge shock with needle drop being the most obvious symptom. Similar to cut trees, the living tree should not be near heat sources like furnace vents or electric heating panels.

Usually, nurseries and garden centers offer evergreen or coniferous trees in containers just like in the summer months or in balled and burlap fashion. The balled and burlap style will require a delicate hand throughout as the root mass is contained in the soil ball, it requires moisture but if rough handled the ball will break. Damage to the root system under these circumstances is not good at all! A good idea is to keep your tree, either ball and burlap style or (preferred) containerized in the garage or a very cool location until just before you want to decorate it. Understand that the tree will need water, so a solid drainage tray underneath is essential. A containerized tree may be sold to you in a plastic container or a fibre pot each requiring slightly different amounts of moisture.

Knowing where the tree will eventually get planted in the garden is wise and perhaps have the hole already dug earlier in the season. The soil that is removed from making the planting hole could be stored in the garage or some such place where it will not freeze. The planting hole could be covered with a sheet of plywood or similar cover to keep the snow from filling it in. Naturally in warmer regions of the country this step can be over looked. It is those of us in zones 6 and below who still attempt to have live Christmas trees who need take heed. It is not considered a good idea to use a soil mix or bagged soil as filler when it comes time to plant as it tends to be too light.

So,let’s get to the planting portion of this exercise to really get you thinking. I will assume that you have pre-dug the planting hole and have some cold but not frozen native soil in the garage. After the three to five days of being in the heat of the home, move your specimen tree to the garage or similar cool/cold location in protection. The slower the cool down the better as well the converse is true when bringing the tree indoors initially, slowly wins the race. On a suitably fine day for planting your living tree, remove the cover from the planting hole and if the container is fibre, slice the sides to allow for moisture to drain and the roots to eventually penetrate. If the container is plastic, the rot mass should pull out in one piece.  Gently place the contents or the fibre pot into the hole and back fill with the saved soil. Water is essential to settle everything into place. If you have a balled and burlap specimen, untie the top knot that encircles the trunk and very gently place the entire works into the hole, the burlap will eventually decompose. In the spring, it is a good idea to feed with a high phosphorus feed to encourage rapid root growth. You can expect to see some tip burn from the abuse this poor tree has endured even if you have applied an anti-desiccant such as Wilt Pruf or additionally protected the tree with a burlap sun shield.

You will never really know how a living Christmas tree is going to work for you until you try it. Even under the most adverse of conditions, there may be some life in the plant with a good solid pruning, it could come back. An excellent lesson for the young ones in your family to celebrate the season.

December 9th, 2018