Although we love the time-honored tradition of searching for the perfect tree to cut down and take home together, why not plant a tree instead?
Celebrating the season with a live tree is a great way to start a holiday tradition and do something good for the planet. You can bring the tree inside and decorate it as usual, but instead of throwing it out afterward, you can plant it and keep it for years to come!
Planting a tree for the future is joyful, rewarding, and a great learning experience for children. Year after year, you can decorate your tree for the season. Birds love a tree decorated with popcorn, suet, and bird-seed ornaments. Whether you plant your tree in the backyard or the woods or donate it to your city park, you will be giving the planet a wonderful present.
Read on to get our tips on caring for your live evergreen!
Choosing a Tree
For your new holiday tradition to succeed, you want to give your tree the best chance to survive! Make sure you pick a tree well suited to your growing region. Suppose you pick a tree out at a local nursery or garden center. In that case, you won’t have to worry too much since they will be carrying trees suited to your region. Many evergreens can survive in a broad range of zones, so you’re sure to be able to find the right one for you! Remember that you need to choose a tree two zones hardier than your climate if you want to wait to plant it until the Spring. This will protect your tree from Winter since the pot won’t provide much insulation to the root ball.
The size of the live tree you choose will be nearly as important as the type. Unlike a cut tree, a live tree is accompanied by a root ball and soil. The root ball has to be large enough to provide enough nutrients for the tree through the Winter, and the pot needs enough soil to stabilize the tree. This weight adds up, and a 6′ live tree may weigh 250 lbs vs a 50lb 6′ cut tree. Make sure to choose a tree you can get in and out of your house and into the ground!
Caring for your tree indoors
You should only keep your tree indoors for about 10 days. Otherwise, you risk depriving the tree of sun, drying out the root ball, and breaking dormancy.
The tree will get stressed out if you change its environment too drastically, so you must acclimate your tree before bringing it fully indoors. About a week before you need to decorate, place the tree in an unheated garage or enclosed building with some natural light; a sheltered outside area will do if one isn’t available. Leave the tree there for a few days.
Next, bring the tree into a back room or enclosed porch, somewhere that is somewhat warmer than the previous location. Leave the tree there for a few days.
Finally, you can place your tree in the location you’ve chosen for the holidays. Pick a spot indoors with good light, away from wood stoves or other heat sources. You don’t want to dry out the needles or cause the tree to break dormancy. If possible, keep the temperature around the low 60’s. Evergreens thrive in colder temperatures!
A well-watered tree is a happy tree and will pose less of a fire risk than a cut tree. You want to keep the root ball moist but not soggy. Place a good handful of ice cubes on top of the soil every day or two to provide water and keep the root system cool. Remember that the pot will have drainage holes in it. A saucer of some type is a good idea to prevent spills.
We know there are all sorts of tricks and tips circulating the internet for extending the life of a Christmas tree, but really, all you need is water. Don’t fertilize your tree before or during its time indoors. Remember, you don’t want to give your tree any reason to come out of hibernation!
Caring for your Tree Outdoors
Make sure to include the time you took to transition your tree when calculating when you need to move it outdoors. After your 10 days is up, start re-acclimating your tree to outdoor temperatures. Remember, you don’t want to shock or stress your tree! Take several days and move the tree into a progressively cooler location (the reverse of when you moved the tree inside).
Once you have the tree outside, you have a few choices for how you can plant it. You can either plant the tree right away or keep it in the pot until Spring.
If you are going to plant it right away, you may even want to prepare the planting hole in the Fall. This is an excellent idea if your ground freezes in the Winter (if you don’t prepare the hole early, you may be forced to wait until the Spring anyways. Oops!)
In either case, choose a location with full sun and well-draining soil. Keep in mind how large the tree will get. Do you want it to be a living fence between you and your neighbor? A privacy screen preventing people from seeing your house from the road? Something to provide shade and shield your home from the hot sun in the Summer? Once you have decided on the best location, dig a hole large enough to accommodate the root ball.
If you pre-dig the hole in the Fall, fill the hole with leaves to prevent the ground from freezing or filling with snow. It is also a good idea to cover the hole with a tarp or board so that critters (and you!) can’t fall in. Save the soil that comes out of the hole in a sheltered container to prevent it from freezing as well.
Once you are ready to plant, you may amend the soil slightly with good organic compost mixed well with the native soil. Place the tree in the planting hole, and cut the string holding the burlap together from around the trunk. Cut away as much burlap as possible (it will degrade in the hole if some burlap is left on). Water the tree well and allow the water to drain before adding back the soil mixture. If you are planting in the Spring, you can also topdress with a mild fertilizer like Tree and Shrub 4-2-4 or Acid mix 4-3-6. Our Tree and Shrub mix is specifically enhanced with mycorrhizae to encourage a healthy root system and mitigate transplant stress. The acid mix is another good choice since pine trees like slightly acidic soil.
Once your tree is outdoors, it doesn’t have to stop being festive! Each year, you can decorate your tree with bird and squirrel-friendly snacks like Orange slice, popcorn, or cranberry garlands, and bird-seed ornaments. The Winter is the best time to provide a snack to these critters since their natural food sources are minimized.
Thank you for planting a live tree and making a green choice for the planet this holiday season! Happy Holidays!