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Having a live evergreen tree for the holidays allows you to enjoy it indoors during Christmas, and outdoors for many years thereafter. You'll need to plan ahead so you can plant the tree shortly after the holidays. Here are a few steps to keep your tree healthy and thriving.
Dig the planting hole in late October or early November. It should be at least least twice as wide in diameter and the same depth as the root ball (or nursery pot) of the tree you'll bring indoors at Christmas. Place the soil from the hole on one half of a large tarp, fold the tarp to cover the soil, and place a thick layer of shredded leaves or straw over the tarp to keep the soil from freezing. (If you live where temperatures get very cold, place the soil in a wheelbarrow and store it in a place that won't freeze.)
Then fill the planting hole with bags of leaves or straw so that snow and ice will not accumulate. Depending on the location, you might need to cover the hole with boards for safety.
Kept indoors any longer and the tree may break dormancy and is unlikely to survive. (If you want an indoor tree that you can enjoy for a few weeks, choose a fresh-cut tree instead.) Store your live tree outdoors in a protected location, such as a porch or shed. Water the root ball to keep it moist. A week before you plant to bring it indoors, move it into an unheated garage or porch to help it adjust to being indoors. Place the tree in a large bucket and keep it well watered. Consider spraying the tree with an anti-desiccant such as Wilt-Pruf to keep the needles from losing excessive moisture. Bring the tree into the house ideally just a few days before Christmas. Evergreen trees must not be inside for more than seven days.
The room should be kept as cool as possible (65 degrees F or less). Water well! The entire root ball must be kept very moist -- but not sitting in pooled water. Place the tree away from direct sun and heat sources.
Take the tree back outside as soon as possible, ideally on a mild day. If the weather isn't ideal, keep it in the same unheated space as before until the time is right. Place it in the hole you prepared in the fall, keeping the top of the root ball slightly higher than ground level. Loosen the burlap around the top of the root ball and roll the burlap back a bit. For potted trees, simply remove the tree from the pot and place it in the hole. Backfill around the root ball halfway with the soil mixture you set aside in the fall and water it well. Add the rest of the soil and tamp it down well. Then mulch around the tree. You can also spray the tree with an anti-desiccant again if it's a mild day.
If a hole is not readily available for your tree, put the tree outdoors in a place well protected from wind and sun. Mulch the root ball heavily with straw or bark mulch. The goal is to protect the root ball from freezing -- just as it is when it's in the ground. Water the root ball on mild days. When spring comes, you can move the tree to its final location.
Last updated: 11/5/19
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