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Live Christmas trees require special care

Q: During dinner my partner and I were talking about using a “real” tree for the holidays. We’ve always had cut trees, but since this is our first Christmas in our new home, we want to be able to plant a real tree so we’ll always have a live reminder of this happy time in our lives. Any suggestions you would give will be much appreciated. – W.L., Albuquerque

A: Having a real tree is a lovely way to mark happy events in your world and, yes, I have several suggestions.

First, decide beforehand where you plan on planting. That’ll give you a sense of how big a tree, at maturity, you’ll be shopping for. Sure they start small but, variety dependent, they can take up quite a bit of space as they grow up. Toddle around a full-service nursery and see what’s available and what strikes your fancy.

Evergreen trees come in a lot of different sizes and colors. There are fairly fast growers, such as Austrian pines, and slower growers, such as Colorado blue spruce and piñons. You can find trees that offer dark green colors, some that naturally wear a blueish cast to their needles and others that are a duskier gray-green. Many choices, color-wise.

OK, you’ve chosen the spot and the tree, so now you get to transport. A containerized living tree can be very heavy, and it’s your responsibility to get it to its new home safely. Delivery can usually be set up or if you have the ways and means you can move your treasure yourself. Just don’t drive around all day with a living tree stuffed in your trunk, or hanging halfway out a car window. Be safe.

Next, you’ll need to know about timing. A living tree should not be kept indoors for longer than five days – seven days at the longest. Most trees are well into their rest cycle now, and if you bring it into an environment of warmth and brighter light, it just might start to wake up. Since you’re going to plunk it back outside and in turn plant it, you don’t want it to awaken much. So aim to bring in the tree a couple of days before Christmas, enjoy it for the next three, then get it back outside. It’ll be best if you can place the tree on a covered patio or in an unheated garage to cool it back down for a couple of days before planting, so it goes back asleep and realizes it’s not time to truly wake up.

Now, just before you bring the tree in, give it a good soaking. You want the roots and soil completely wet before it comes in. You’ll want a saucer of sorts to set under the container, too. Depending on the size of the container the tree comes in, you can find large saucers, a drip collection pan that collects oil from under a car or something as simple as a large garbage bag or sheet plastic to be gathered around the top of the container.

Once the tree is set indoors, you get to decorate. As far as lighting goes, use the smallest, coolest bulb strands you can find. The technology in lighting strands has advanced marvelously, so think cool. Also remember to keep the lights off as much as possible, since it’s your goal to keep the tree cool and asleep.

After you’ve enjoyed your tree indoors, planting comes next. Remember to dig the hole twice as wide, but just as deep as the container the tree comes to you in. You can work a smidgen of compost into the soil that comes out of the hole to offer a little more fertility. Get the tree set, backfill, tamping the soil down as you go along, and with the leftover soil create a moat wall to hold the water you’re going to offer. For the first week, water daily, filling the moat slowly. Then ramp down so you’re watering once every 10 to 15 days throughout the winter, so your treasure settles in and doesn’t suffer from dry root syndrome.

Tracey Fitzgibbon is a certified nurseryman. Send your questions to Digging In, Rio West, P.O. Drawer J, Albuquerque, NM 87103.