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Trusted local news leader for Prescott area communities since 1882
8:43 AM Sat, Sept. 22nd

Plant a living tree this year

It's been cold this week, especially if you work outdoors. I'm a 60-degree kind of guy myself, so a temperature in the 40's is downright cold. Throw a little wind into the mix in the early morning and I long for insulated jeans. The rose bush at the front of my house was desperately trying to send up one last blossom before Christmas, but the cold this week put an end to the attempt. It was sad to see the buds frozen.

Now that Christmas trees are here, we all look forward to a light dusting of snow on the ground. There are few things more beautiful at a Christmas tree lot than seeing each of the trees lightly covered in a natural dusting of snow. Unless, of course, it's seeing that last tree on the lot sold just before Christmas.

I've teamed up with a local church youth group this year and opened an additional Christmas tree lot at the corner of Sheldon and Montezuma in downtown Prescott. If you are a local nonprofit group looking for a great way to raise money, this is the time of year to make contacts with local Christmas tree lots. Local groups often wait too long for this fundraising idea, because tree lots have been organized and orders placed since late summer. Talk to the Christmas tree lot people in your community to see what the possibilities are this season in order to set the stage for next year.

Living Christmas trees have become increasingly popular over the past few years. I don't know if it's because of the increased building in the area or because there is more interest in planting living trees during the holidays. Either way, I had to order two more truckloads of trees this year than I have in the past, with the latest arriving just yesterday.

If you're looking to add evergreens to the landscape, this is a great option, but there are some drawbacks you need to know about. Let's go through the steps of picking, keeping and planting a successful Living Christmas Tree.

• Types of trees – I've sold all types of trees over the years as living Christmas trees, even dormant cherry trees. The most popular choices are Colorado spruce – with their perfect tiered shape; Austrian pine – which looks like a mini ponderosa pine; and Alberta spruce – cute, cuddly and bushy. Traditional or unconventional, any tree you like to decorate and use as holiday décor is good for a living tree. Many people decorate a tree and simply leave it on the deck, patio or entryway throughout the holidays.

• How long – Living Christmas trees can be safely kept indoors for 7 to 10 days. It's important not to exceed this time limit without affecting the survivability of the tree. We used to tell customers 5 to 7 days because they always pushed the limits and the mortality rate skyrocketed on trees brought indoors. Make sure that you don't exceed the 10-day rule. If you are bringing in a 5-foot-plus size tree, I would use the 7-day time frame. Protect your tree from drying out by spraying the needles with Anti-Stress 2000, a clear polymer anti-transpirant.

• Preparation – Keep the tree well watered before bringing it into the house. At the garden center we water these trees every 2 to 3 days. You should do the same.

• Placement – Situate your tree where it is at least 10 feet away from a woodstove or fireplace. Do not set it where heat from your furnace duct will blow directly on it, and avoid placing it in a sunny window.

• Watering – Keep the root ball moist while in the house. This is very important! Check the tree daily to be sure that the soil is not dry. A vinyl saucer or plastic sheet under the tree will protect your floor or carpeting. Ice cubes are an ideal way to water living trees. It works like an artificial drip system as the ice slowly melts through the root ball.

• Ornaments – Feel free to dress your living tree with your favorite decorations. Lights should be the small miniature type, or I like the new LED lights. They burn very bright without releasing heat. Do not use spray snow that adheres to the needles.

• After Christmas – Set the tree in an unheated garage, carport, or other shady protected location for at least a week to allow it to readjust to cold weather. If you don't have any of the above, use the north side of your house. The idea is to acclimate the tree back to the outdoor setting. It's been toasty warm inside your home for the holidays and now it has to get used to the 19-degree weather once again. Hose it off to keep it watered during this period. Be sure to remove the plastic wrap or saucer to allow for drainage. Pick the next nice sunny day to plant this holiday treasure out in the yard and enjoy it for years to come.

• Planting instructions – Plant the tree just like you would any other time of year, but remember to use stakes to keep it upright. Snow can load up so heavy on a tree that it causes it to fall over, especially on varieties such as upright junipers, cypress and pines. Dig the hole the same depth as the root ball, but three times as wide. Remember, roots do not go down in rocky mountain soils, but run along the surface of the ground. Roots will be happiest if you dig a wide shallow hole. Most importantly, this type of hole is easier on your back.

Use compost or mulch to keep the soil loose around the root ball. Pack the soil firmly with your foot to eliminate air pockets around the roots. When firmed, top-dress the root ball with a 2- to 3-inch layer of mulch, thereby insulating roots and retaining moisture. Water once every two weeks until sometime in March when the nice spring days finally return again.

Today and next Saturday are the two busiest shopping days for Christmas trees in the area and I love it. Not because they are busy, but because customers are in such good spirits. People's moods change when they're shopping for Christmas trees. It's fun to help them pick the perfect tree that will be the centerpiece of their holiday this year.

Until next week, enjoy the spirit of the holidays.

Ken Lain is the owner of Watters Home and Garden Center and is an Arizona Certified Nursery Professional and Master Gardener.