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Timing is everything with live Christmas tree

Q. We’ re planning on purchasing a living pine tree to decorate this Christmas. We understand that it should not be indoors for very long, but how long should we wait to plant after the holiday? U.L., AlbuquerqueTracey Fitzgibbon

A. You’re correct that when choosing to use a living tree indoors to celebrate the holiday it is best if it’s inside for no more than 7 days. Plan to bring it in two days before Christmas and then move it back outside 2 to 3 days after the holiday. Be sure that you water the container – soaked to drippy wet – a couple of hours before you bring it in and place it on a large saucer or some sort of plastic sheeting, so your floors aren’t marred while it’s indoors.

Then, place it in a cool spot indoors, not next to a fireplace, wood stove or heater.

When you take the tree back outdoors, place it somewhere fairly protected – under a covered patio, in an unheated garage – for 3 to 4 days, remembering to water the container again thoroughly. That’ll keep the tree stable and asleep, so to speak. After you’ve prepared for its placement outdoors, I want you to research the tree’s needs. Be sure you’re able to offer it the space it’ll take up once it reaches maturity. Remember to look up when hunting for the perfect spot in the yard.

Competition from other trees, overhead power lines or eaves from the house needs to be realized well before planting. Don’t goof when you pick a planting spot.

When you’ve made the “correct” choice of tree and where you’re going to plant, I’d suggest you prepare the receiving hole and be ready to plant. Lay down a tarp and dig the hole. Set the soil on the tarp and mix it with compost to enrich the soil. That way, if the weather turns truly cold, you’ll be ahead of the game.

After the cooling-down period, go ahead and plant. Once you have the tree out of the pot, set it in the hole and make sure that the top of the soil surrounding the root mass will be at the same grade as the surrounding ground. Push and tamp down lightly beneath the “root mass” to get to the correct level if necessary.

Planting a tree too deeply, having any part of the trunk buried, is bad for the tree.

When the tree is set and at the correct level, continue to backfill, tamping as you go to settle the amended soil to surround the root mass. Because some soil won’t go back in the hole because it’s been displaced by the root mass of the tree use it to create a moat wall surrounding the tree. Water slowly and deeply, once a day, for several days so everything settles. I recommend root stimulator (diluted) to be applied just after the first watering to encourage a healthy root system too. Gradually wean the watering back to every 10 days throughout the balance of the winter and early spring period, and the tree should be settled in its new, wisely chosen home and grace your world for years to come. Having a living tree is far more of a commitment on your part but well worth it.

Note to Readers: I want to alert you to a fun event at the Albuquerque Garden Center. The Holiday Fair Craft and Plant Sale will be happening at the Garden Center, 10120 Lomas NE, from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Dec. 6-7. This admission-free event gives you the chance to find holiday décor galore. Forty vendors will be on hand.

Happy Diggin’ In!

Tracey Fitzgibbon is a certified nurseryman. Send garden-related questions to Digging In, Albuquerque Journal, 7777 Jefferson NE, Albuquerque, NM 87109, or to