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Is it OK to plant my real tree outside after Christmas?

Q: When we purchased our new home, our parents gave us a gift certificate from a nursery for us to use in the yards since they are both, front and back, mostly bare.

Now it’s our first Christmas here and we are thinking about purchasing a real tree, and then planting it outdoors. We’ve heard there are rules about using a real tree and we want to be successful, so would you guide us? – F.C.T., West Side

A: I sure will! First, I want you to call 811 and make an appointment to have your utilities staked, so to speak. That way you can safely dig in the yard without the worry of ruining any utility lines that could be running through your yard.

Next, you’ll want to decide where you want the new tree to live. Know that most evergreen trees do take up quite a bit of space at maturity. You don’t want to plant a tree that’ll get easily 10-feet wide planted next to a sidewalk or the house, so plan for it at its mature size.

Know, too, it’ll block both sightline and sunlight, so I’d think twice before planting in a place where it could interrupt a view. But then it could keep prying eyes from seeing all, as well. So be thoughtful about where the tree will live.

Now, you have to choose the tree and you have lots of choices. Are you looking for a fast grower, a slow one, long-needled pine or short-needled spruce? There is color choice, too.

Dark green like Austrian or Afghan pines. Colorado blue spruce offers a dusky blue-green color. In that family, a “Fat Albert” Colorado spruce is a relatively slow grower, staying squatter in size than its cousin, a true Colorado blue spruce. Most of our nurseries have good selections of living trees for you to investigate, so have fun with that!

Caring for the tree has very specific rules for sure. You’ll want the tree indoors for no more than five days! Any longer than that and the tree recognizes the warmth and could start to wake up! You don’t want it to come out of the dormant state it’s in right now.

Also aim to place the tree while it’s indoors in the coolest spot possible. When you string the tree with lights, use the smallest mini-lights you can afford. The more heat the light strands give off, the warmer the tree gets and thinks about waking up. Not good!

So bring your treasure in a day or two before Christmas, enjoy it for the holiday and a couple of days after, but then get it out of the house. It’d be best if the tree could go directly into an unheated garage for a few days to settle back down, but placed under a patio roof would do, too. It’s best if you just don’t plunk it right back out into the weather. A re-settling period for a week is ideal.

Next, plant the tree. Your planting hole needs to be twice as wide as the container holding the tree, but only as deep as the pot. The soil coming out of the hole should have some compost mixed into it to give the tree the added nutrients and water holding capability that’ll help ensure its long-term health.

Once the tree is in the planting hole, backfill with the amended soil, remembering to create a water holding moat, and slowly fill that moat with water until full.

For the next several weeks, make it a goal to fill that moat so the roots start to expand and settle into the new home. You’ll want to keep your treasure well watered its first year but, by next autumn, you should have a healthy, living reminder of your first Christmas in your new home! Happy holidays to you all while you are out there Digging In.

Need tips on growing your garden? Tracey Fitzgibbon is a certified nurseryman. Send your garden-related questions to Digging In, Rio West, P.O. Drawer J, Albuquerque, NM 87103.