Buying a tree for indoors now and outdoors later Evergreen: Planting it after the holiday enhances the landscape and improves the environment.

November 30, 1997|By Ary Bruno | Ary Bruno,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

One of the pleasures of the holidays is to buy a live Christmas tree that may later be planted to enhance one's landscape and, incidentally, improve the environment. Some of the smaller of these can even be kept from year to year in containers and returned indoors for a brief sojourn during the Christmas season.

Since this will be a purchase for the long term, you should consider the kinds of trees, their colors, textures, habits of growth and potential maximum size. It's also a good idea to prepare a place for your tree before the bells of Christmas give way to the snows and frozen tundra of January.

First, dig your hole. About 3 feet in diameter and about 18 inches deep is right for the average tree.

This will make life much easier when you are planting the tree, as by that time the temperatures will have dropped and the ground may well be frozen solid. Also, it gives you a place to put the tree as soon as it comes out of the house, so that it is not merely plunked in a tub and stuck in a corner of the garden.

The hole can and even should be dug even before the tree is purchased. Put the excavated earth to one side and cover it with a tarp or piece of plastic pegged down, so that it does not erode in the weather, and will (mostly) stay unfrozen.

Put some fertilizer in the hole, too, something without too much nitrogen. Bone meal is excellent, along with greensand and several shovels of good compost. Evergreens will also benefit from having some sand and peat moss worked into our predominantly clay soil before planting.

There are a few criteria that should be applied whenever a live plant is purchased. Of these, health is the foremost, since a sickly tree is never merry.

Look for trees that have lively, green, flexible needles. These should never be dried out, and should not come off in the fingers when pulled gently.

Most living Christmas trees are sold balled and burlapped, but some are in containers.

If the tree is balled and burlapped, the ball should be large. While a smaller ball may be easier to handle, it will not contain as many roots -- especially the main ones -- and the taproot many have been amputated, which would seriously affect the ability of your tree to survive. Look for trees with the largest root ball; a 6-foot tree should have one that takes two men to lift.

The root ball should also be well filled and show no signs of having ever dried out. The covering may be wet when you are introduced, but if the block of dirt around the roots is hard and brick-like and feels loose inside the cover, you can surmise that it has been left dry at some point, and the critical small feeder roots of the tree are probably damaged.

A large root ball will also have the greatest amount of the earth that the tree was grown in. This, too, is an important factor in how well the tree will survive, for in that earth are a colony of microscopic bacteria friendly to the tree, which help it absorb nutrients and have grown in a symbiotic relationship with it. The more of these present when the tree is planted, the better its chances are.

As for the amount of time the tree spends indoors, the less the better. Store it outside in a sheltered location, away from the sun and the wind. Keep the root ball moist, but not wet, at all times. It is a good idea to mist your tree daily with water if possible to keep it from drying out.

Before bringing your tree inside, spray it with an anti-desiccant, such as Wilt-Pruf to minimize dehydration except if it is a juniper or cedar (see directions on the back of the Wilt-Pruf label). When the tree is brought inside, position it away from heat sources, such as a fireplace, wood stoves, heating vents and ducts and television. Hang the ornaments carefully, and use only tree lights with minimal heat.

Plant the tree as soon as possible after the holiday in the hole you have already prepared. If the weather is very cold, it may help to precondition the tree for a day or two by moving it to a transition space like an unheated garage or enclosed porch.

Take the burlap off before you plant the tree to be on the safe side. Some burlap/nursery cloth is biodegradable and will disintegrate -- and some is not. If you can't tell the difference, take it off, otherwise you may have one strangled and very dead tree.

Set the tree in the hole and gently spread the roots out. Shovel the dirt in around it, being careful to sift the dirt in around the roots so there are no air spaces. Water it when you are about half done to help settle the dirt, then finish filling the hole. Tamp it down gently but firmly. Water your tree, and apply mulch if you have it.

Support the tree with a 2-by-2 stake as tall as the tree to keep it from blowing about in the wind and having the roots tear. This will also help ensure a nice vertical trunk in the future.

When you buy

Here is a list of several of the most popular Christmas trees.

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