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Living Christmas tree is worth the extra effort

Q: We want to have a real tree indoors that we can plant in the yard after the holidays. I vaguely remember there are “rules” but don’t remember and don’t want to hurt the tree. Please remind us how to best take care of a real tree! Thanks!Tracey Fitzgibbon

A: First and foremost in my teachings is having a “living” tree indoors for a very short period of time. Plan on having it inside for 5 to 7 days at the most. The reasons are simple.

First, you don’t want to have a tree that’s been outside come out of its seasonal state of dormancy. Kept inside where the temperature is quite pleasant, it would think about awakening, so to speak, and it’d more than likely suffer cold damage when it is plunked back outdoors. Brrrr! So plan accordingly. Bring it in a day or two before Christmas and then get it back outside 3 to 4 days after the holiday. These “rules” are paramount.

Next your aim is to keep the tree as cool as possible. Choose light strands that will make very little heat. The newer LED bulbs are made to not only save some energy but don’t make as much heat, so invest in the newer technology. Keep the tree as far away as possible from any heat sources. Vents from the floor or ceiling blowing directly on the tree are bad.

OK, next think about the tree itself. Living, containerized trees can be heavy. Can move one? If not, most true nurseries can and will deliver for you as long as you shop and arrange the process early. So hop to and pick out your holiday treasure very soon.

You need be prepared to bring it indoors. I recommend a large enough sheet of contractor plastic to set beneath the pot to protect your flooring, then is able to bring up the sides of the pot to encase it so any moisture in the pot stays put. If the container isn’t too big you should consider a saucer to set the pot on, too. More protection the better. You can always drape a colorful themed covering to disguise that no-so-pretty look if need be.

Watering will be necessary a couple of hours before you get the tree indoors, too. If arranging delivery ask/insist that the tree is watered just before it comes so it’ll “drip off” and be ready to set on the plastic sheet. If you’ve gotten it home safely on your own, be sure to give it a good drink a couple of hours before it comes inside. Never bring in a dry containerized tree. It’ll suffer greatly.

Now decorate and enjoy your treasure but don’t think you’re done yet! When you go to getting the tree back outside consider placing it in an un-heated garage space or a protected covered patio for about a week. Give it a good drink, having stripped the protective away and allow it a rest. It needs that time to chill back down and be convinced that “Oh, I’m not supposed to wake up yet.”

You can plan on planting in early January following all the usual planting guides. You know, dig the hole twice as wide but just as deep as the container, mix in compost, set the tree no deeper that it is in the pot, backfill and tamp the soil down, use the left over soil to create a moat, and most importantly … water! Plan on watering every 10 days through the winter period. Never allow it to dry out, especially if it’s going to get really cold. Keep the root mass dampened.

Or, as long as you promise to water, usually every four to seven days, it’ll survive dormant in the pot until the early spring when you want to get out and plant. Using a living tree to grace your home for the holiday is chock full of do’s and don’t’s but having a living reminder in your landscape is a terrific way to decorate your outdoors, too! Sure it’s a bit more work but truly worth it when you’re out there Diggin’ In!

Send questions to Digging In, Albuquerque Journal, P.O. Drawer J, Albuquerque, NM 87103, or to



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