Home Grown

Tips and resources for farmers and gardeners

Living Christmas Trees

Environmentally Correct? ~ Keeping a Cut Tree Fresh

A living Christmas tree is a wonderful way to celebrate the Christmas holiday and then cherish the memory of those special times throughout the year.

Before planting a living Christmas tree, however, some preparations and precautions will greatly increase chances of tree survival.

First, be sure you have a suitable site for planting the tree. Heavy clay soils are not ideal for planting most evergreen trees because they will not tolerate wet feet and it may be necessary to create a berm or mound of topsoil to assure good drainage.

It is also important to have enough space for the tree to grow. Pines or spruces should be planted no closer than 25 feet from other trees, unless they are planted in a row as a windbreak.

Full sun will help a good tree shape as it matures. Good air circulation will help reduce the incidence of needle diseases and blights.

Some of the best Christmas tree species for planting are the Norway spruce, white pine, white fir and Black Hills spruce. Most nurseries will have these either as container grown trees (which are easier to move around) or balled and burlapped trees.

When first bringing a tree home from the nursery, place it an area outside that is shady and protected from extreme cold.

Bring the tree inside two or three days before Christmas to enjoy, but move it back outside within seven days. Make sure to water the tree while it is indoors. Warm, low humidity environment in the house causes excessive moisture loss from the foliage and the soil ball.

It is usually best to to dig a hole for the tree to be planted prior to bringing it into the house. The hole should be about 2-3 times the diameter of the soil ball, but no deeper. Cover the excavated soil with a tarp to keep it from being too wet or frozen when planting the tree after Christmas.

After Christmas, plant the tree immediately if the weather permits. If not, be certain to place the tree in an unheated garage and do not allow the tree root ball to dry out.

Once you have it in the ground, protect the root system from frost heaving by mulching the tree with a thick layer of mulch.

Fresh-Cut Fraser Fir Christmas Tree

Environmentally Correct?


You can breathe easier knowing Christmas trees are being grown. Christmas trees provide the daily oxygen requirements for millions of people.

And if better breathing is not enough, people can rest easier knowing that real trees are a renewable resource. Approximately 34 million trees are sold every year, and more than enough seedlings are planted to replace them. A million acres in the U.S. are in Christmas tree production.

Christmas-tree farms benefit the environment in a number of important and diverse ways: reducing soil erosion, creating habitat for wildlife, sequestering carbon, etc.

When a Christmas-tree seedling is planted on a farm, it usually is already three or four years old. Depending upon the species, it may take another seven to 10 years to produce a marketable tree.

Some people contend that producing real trees doesn't require burning fossil fuels, as do artificial trees, but it is not that simple. The environmental impact of producing Christmas trees or any other agricultural commodity needs to be considered in the context of overall benefits and costs.

For example, fossil fuels are consumed by equipment to produce trees on farms, but these same trees also sequester carbon over their lifespan.

After the tree is used, consider alternative disposal methods. Many communities have recycling programs — some offering curbside pickup — and will convert the tree into mulch. Used trees also make great fish habitats when placed in farm ponds or lakes.

Keeping a Cut Tree Fresh

Keeping a cut tree fresh during the holidays is largely an issue of water. Anything you can do to keep the tree hydrated will keep it fresh.

Start by making a fresh, quarter-inch cut around the base of the tree if it has been more than two days since it was harvested. Use a tree stand with a water reservoir of at least 1.5 gallons — a freshly cut, average-size tree can use up to a gallon of water each day.

Refill the stand with clean water regularly so that the water level does not drop below the base of the tree. Keep the tree away from heat — don't position it near heating vents. Douglas fir and Fraser fir should remain fresh inside a house for four or five weeks.

Sources: Patrick Byers, horticulture specialist, University of Missouri Extension; Ricky Bates, associate professor of ornamental horticulture, Penn State.

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