The disposable cut Christmas tree of yesteryear is today a valuable addition as organic material used for mulch, compost and soil improvement. Gone are the days when trees were simply tossed to the curb where it became a heterogeneous mixture when combined with all the other Christmas discards destined for the landfill.
These days, most municipalities will pick up your tree for free where it’s separated from landfill trash. Trees are collected for composting or shredded into mulch with infinite uses and benefits. Even if no such service is available in your area, there are locations around every town that will accept your tree for free. Or consider organizations such as the Boy Scouts of America who will, for a nominal fee, pick up your tree and take it to the appropriate location for recycling.
In the event any of those options is more than you want to deal with, a discarded tree left to decompose on its own can provide important shelter for birds and wildlife as it breaks down. For any of the above options, trees should be free of that silver tinsel stuff. It’s made of plastic, which never fully biodegrades. Bad stuff for the environment.
Even better, over the last several years, the popularity of live or living Christmas trees has been on the rise. Unfortunately many of these trees don’t survive the holiday season – not because they can’t, but because they are not cared for properly. Knowing how to choose, plant and care for a live Christmas tree will make for a happier holiday, and a valuable addition to your landscape. Here’s what you need to know.
If you’re one of the good folks who have taken this route, what you do between now and the time you plant it outdoors can determine its ultimate fate. I’m already assuming you selected a variety that will grow well in your area. The most common tree species used for living Christmas trees include spruce, pines and firs, although many garden centers market any cone-shaped tree as an option for Christmas. Although these may not be considered “traditional” choices, they may be the best option for your area. I think that’s smart.
Avoid the temptation to bring your tree indoors too early. Once your tree makes it home, it needs to stay outside, in a protected area, until a few days before Christmas. It’s still outside, right? Make sure the soil is kept moist, but not wet. It also needs to be sheltered from high winds and full sun. The objective for this time is to acclimate your tree to warmer temperatures over a period of three to four days. Climate controlled homes are warm and dry – an inhospitable environment for a living tree. In fact, the less time indoors the better; one or two days before Christmas is best, but no more than a week.
Many people choose to spray their live tree with an antidesiccant or antiwilt product. These products will help retain valuable moisture in the tree, and reduce needle loss, once the tree is moved indoors. If you choose this option, do so before the tree is moved inside and while it is acclimating to the warmer temperatures. These products are sold under several names, including Wilt-Pruf and CloudCover.
Move your tree back outdoors as soon as possible after Christmas. However, don’t immediately plant it. The tree will need to readjust to the outdoors in a protected area for several days. Avoid direct sun, high winds and warm areas when storing your tree. Be sure to maintain soil moisture. In a week to 10 days, move your tree into a planting hole in your landscape.
A good idea is to have already prepared the planting site, especially in areas of the country where the ground already may be frozen. The hole should be at least twice as wide as the root ball, but no deeper. Planting your tree slightly higher than the surrounding soil will help with drainage. Then, simply backfill with the original soil. Finally, be sure to water and mulch your tree to retain moisture. Continue to monitor soil moisture through winter.