Dig in now to plant a living holiday tree

Dig in now if you plan to plant a living holiday tree.

Whether it’s your budget, environmental commitment, or desire to keep holiday memories alive, you’ve decided to forego a cut holiday tree for a living tree. What’s the difference between a cut tree and living tree? According to Rebecca Finneran, Michigan State University Extension, it’s “roots, of course.”

Living trees are available as container-grown or ball-and-burlap plants and can be planted in your yard. Planning ahead is critical.

Select the right species

For South Central Pennsylvania good choices are Fraser Fir, Douglas Fir, White Pine, Concolor Fir, Canaan Fir, Blue Spruce and Norway Spruce. Here’s a guide.

Choose a manageable size

Root balls are heavy. Typically, a 3-4 foot will fit indoors when considering the height of the root ball and container. Make sure it will fit into your landscape, too. Most holiday tree choices eventually grow 40-60 feet.

Prepare the hole now

Dig in early is our advice. Dig the hole as deep as the root ball and twice as wide before the ground freezes and cover it up with mulch, leaves or straw. If you wait, you may need a pickax to get it in the ground. Keep the excavated soil nearby and covered.

Have a holding area

A cold garage or shed can hold the tree until it’s time to bring it inside. Keep the root ball watered until planted. Living trees can stay in the house for only a brief period, about 10-14 days. If you want to keep your tree in the house until the New Year, don’t bring it in until December 17.

Indoor Care

The root ball must remain moist while in the house so avoid heat sources.  Check it daily. Make sure lights are turned off when not needed. Take care not to damage the trunk bark or break branches.

Acclimate to outdoors

Move the tree to the holding area to allow it to adjust to outdoor temperatures.

Plant it

So you have decided to go with a living holiday tree. Here’s some guidelines to plant it.

On a mild day, place it in the hole. Remove the burlap from the root ball. Backfill with excavated soil and tamp gently. Water deeply as this can help eliminate air pockets under the root ball. Finish by covering the top of the soil with a 3-inch layer of mulch or compost to insulate and protect the roots. If we have a mild winter with little snow cover, check often to see if it needs watering.

dig in
Carol Kagan

Carol Kagan is a master gardener and author who has been active in herbal organizations for over 35 years. She has designed and maintained herb gardens and provided docent services at historic properties.

She is the author of  Herb Sampler. The book is a great resource for beginners who love herbs but aren’t quite sure how to get started; or have been unsuccessful in establishing a herb garden.

More Carol Kagan gardening columns