Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Southwestern Deserts
December, 2009
Regional Report

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Purchase Christmas trees with fresh, succulent needles.

It's Time to Buy Christmas Trees

As I was sitting in my car at a stoplight the other day, I noticed the car next to me had a pine tree strapped to its roof. I thought, "how odd at this time of year" and then it hit me -- regardless of our recent unseasonably warm temperatures, the holiday season had arrived! Here are a few pointers for selecting and caring for your Christmas tree, whether you choose a cut tree or a live tree growing in a container.

Live Christmas Trees

Container trees are grown outdoors and suddenly being thrust into your home's less-than-ideal growing conditions will be a shock to their systems. If manageable, soak the entire container in a larger bucket or wheelbarrow of water to ensure the entire root ball is well moistened before bringing indoors.

Place your tree out of direct sunlight and away from heating units and fireplaces to prevent needles from drying out. Keep soil consistently moist -- an easy way to manage this is to put ice cubes on the soil and let them melt. This allows a slow soak through the root system. It's also easier than squeezing beneath a tree with a watering can and less likely to result in spilled water on the floor.

Move the tree back outside as soon as possible after the holidays, before it gets used to your warmer house and has to endure another shock moving back to the cold. Place it in a location sheltered from strong winds or frost. Water when the top inch of soil is dry. Plant in early spring after danger of frost is over. If you decided not to keep the live tree, many cities will accept them for planting in parks or public areas. 

Cut Trees

Cut trees must be able to absorb water to maintain fresh needles that won't dry and drop too quickly. Saw off about 2 inches of the trunk just before putting it in the tree stand. A fresh cut helps the tree uptake water. Ask the worker at the tree lot to do this for you, but make sure you are headed straight home because the cut will start to seal fairly rapidly. Trees can absorb a lot of water so check the stand daily and add water (or ice cubes) as needed.

Place cut trees out of direct sun and keep away from heating units and fireplaces.

 When it's time to dispose of a cut tree, check with your town or city for recycling drop-off points. Many park and recreation departments make mulch out of the trees. Or you could make mulch yourself even if you don't own a chipper/shredder. I once cut pine branches into smaller chunks and scattered them on garden paths. For several months, they released a wonderful piney scent when trod on.

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