By Tom Dominguez
The boughs of holly have been used to deck the halls, and sprigs of mistletoe hang over every door, but the one plant that Christmas would not be complete without has yet to be brought in — the Christmas tree. The kids are anxious; they want to decorate the tree NOW! But this year, for something new and longer-lasting, a living tree was what you wanted. Now what?
The first thing to do is pick out a tree. Consider the following: Aleppo Pine, Japanese Black Pine, Japanese Yew, Loblolly Pine, Deodar Cedar, Juniper, or other coniferous evergreens. Perhaps you prefer a broad-leafed tree; possibilities include: American Holly, Burford Holly, Compact Cherry Laurel, or Yaupon. Or you might decide on a tubbed plant to remain inside after the Christmas season? The Norfolk Island Pine, kumquats, calamondins, or Yews would be good choices.
Once the tree is chosen (if it isn’t tubbed), a container must be chosen as well. If the tree roots are balled and burlapped, a container must be used that will allow at least an inch of peat moss, potting soil, or compost around the ball to prevent drying out. If the plant has been grown in a container, it can be made much more attractive by placing it in a redwood tub, ceramic or clay pot, or even a wooden box lined with a polyethylene film liner. All containers should be well drained to prevent damage to the roots caused by excess moisture. A pan underneath the container will also prevent floor damage.
Now that the tree is in the container and in the house, you can start to give the kids a little leeway. All you have to do now is find a good place for the tree that is not in the stream of heat or near a stove or radiator. When not occupied, the room should be kept as cool as possible, and the plant should be watered when dry. A simple way to tell when the plant needs water is to push a sharpened pencil into the soil. If the pencil comes out dry and clean, the plant needs water; otherwise, wait until the next day.
After Christmas, it is best to plant the tree in the landscape as soon as possible. The selected site for the tree should fit into the landscape design, and allow sufficient room for growth and development. The pit dug for the tree should be large enough to allow three to four inches of soil on all sides of the soil ball. It should be planted at the same depth it was planted at the nursery or in the container. For the backfill, add one part peat moss, pine bark, or compost to two parts soil, and pack this mixture firmly around the ball. When the pit is three-fourths full, the tree should be watered thoroughly, and then filled the rest of the way. If the plant was balled and burlapped, the burlap should be loosened before completely filling the hole.
The tree is now a permanent part of your landscape. To keep it healthy while it is adapting to its new environment, here are some tips:
l Water it regularly, but allow the soil to dry a little between waterings.
l Mulch the surface with some kind of organic matter, to reduce weeds and conserve moisture.
l Avoid fertilization until June or July following planting.
l Keep weeds and grass down, to prevent competition.
The tree can be used to serve another purpose — the beautification of your yard. Planted into your landscape, these trees can add a nice touch in the spring, summer, and fall, and can even serve as an outdoor Christmas tree next time Christmas rolls around.
Tom Dominguez is an agent with the Quay County Extension, NMSU Extension Service. He can be reached by emailing email@example.com or calling 461-0562.