Oh Christmas Tree!

The weekend after Thanksgiving begins the Ho! Ho! Ho! Season. Often people inaugurate their holiday season by putting up a Christmas tree, whether cut, faux or living.

If you do buy a living tree, know that trees in containers will break dormancy if kept in the house more than seven to ten days. If this occurs, the buds for spring growth will lose their ability to withstand freezing temperatures. When a tree is put outside in winter after breaking dormancy, the buds die reducing the survivability of the tree in the landscape.

After Christmas, if you kept a living tree in the house longer than seven to ten days, you may be able to send it back into dormancy by gradually exposing it to colder temperatures over a period of weeks.Initially, move the tree out during the day when temperatures are above freezing and back in at night if temperatures are at or below freezing. Gradually expose it to colder and colder temperatures. Once the tree has been acclimated to freezing temperatures again, it can be planted outside.

The alternative to moving the tree in and out is to baby it indoors in its container until the temperatures warm up in the spring, and then plant it.Store it out of freezing temperatures in a location where it will receive sunlight.

Can a tree be left outdoors in the container over the winter? Containerized plants freeze, thaw and reheat more easily than in-ground plants. This process is very stressful to the plant. It damages the roots and compromises the plant’s ability to absorb water. If you must leave a tree in its container, try packing snow or soil over and around the pot, and keep it in a shady location to reduce the freeze, thaw and reheat cycle. Another protection method is to build a wire cage around the container and fill it with mulch, leaves, straw, or even soil to insulate the roots.  No matter what overwintering technique you decide on, keep the tree’s roots moist without letting the tree stand in water.

While indoors, a living tree requires more care than a cut tree. Check the moisture content of the root ball daily.Water it when the top two to three inches of soil feels dry.Be sure to have a plastic saucer under the tree to catch any excess water and to prevent damage to the floor.Set the container up on rocks or on another upside down saucer to prevent the plant from sitting in water.

The ideal way to deal with a live tree that is still dormant is to plant it immediately after the holiday. Prepare the hole before the ground freezes. If you do not dig the hole in advance, a couple of warm days or a few buckets of hot water, should allow you to dig a planting hole in the days following Christmas.