Originally Published: November 25, 2006 4 a.m.
The Christmas holiday in Yavapai County is celebrated with great enthusiasm. It includes driving tours to view outdoor lights and decorations in residential neighborhoods and an extensive drive-through exhibition, where thousands of lights depict the many secular and religious aspects of the season. Even the oldest garden center in the area transforms itself into a spectacular source of Christmas décor.
This is a great time to scoop up garden-center savings as room is made for cut trees, fresh wreaths, garlands and other Christmas holiday merchandise. At my own garden center, the last of the houseplants are half price, making room for this year's poinsettia crop. The time is right to plant flowering bulbs, and they are also half price, making room for fresh cut trees. Help your local garden center clear these items and save. Bring the whole family and enjoy this year's holiday decor.
The county's rich heritage of celebrating Christmas literally took root on Valentine's Day, 1912. That's when, in recognition of Arizona becoming a state, the people of Prescott planted a 3-foot tall evergreen on the grounds of the courthouse square facing Gurley Street. That little sapling, the Statehood Tree, is now over 100 feet tall, and each year it is the only tree on the courthouse lawn that is adorned with Christmas lights. Could it have been the state's first living Christmas tree?
The housing boom throughout the county has brought a dramatic increase in the interest in living Christmas trees. The landscape of a new home is always enhanced by the structured beauty of a majestic tree that will adorn the landscape for generations regardless of the season. While the altitude determines the types of evergreens that will grow best, certain techniques guarantee indoor enjoyment of a tree and its eventual transition to a life out of doors.
Types of trees The popularity of living Christmas trees has resulted in extensive selections displayed at local garden centers. Area favorites are Colorado blue spruce, with its perfectly tiered shape; Austrian pine, which resembles a mini ponderosapine; and Alberta spruce cute, cuddly and bushy. Traditional or unconventional, any tree can be decorated and enjoyed as an ornament before it becomes a planted addition to a landscape.
How long Living Christmas trees can be safely kept indoors seven to 10 days. It is important not to exceed this time, as the outdoor survivability of the tree can be affected. Trees that stand taller than 6 feet should adhere to the shorter time indoors. Many people decorate a tree and simply leave it on the deck, patio, or outside entryway throughout the holiday season.
Preparation Before bringing it inside, it's important that the tree be kept well watered. While the tree is outside and still in its container, be sure to water it every two to three days for adequate hydration. Do not worry about the cold. These plants like it when it's bitterly cold. Their struggle comes when they contend with warm indoor temperatures.
Placement Situate living trees at least 10 feet from a wood stove or fireplace. Keep away from heat ducts that blow directly on it, and avoid placement in a sunny window.
Watering Keep the root ball moist while in the house. Ice cubes are ideal for watering living trees while they're indoors. The ice melts, releasing a slow but constant supply of water, rather like an artificial drip system. To protect your floors from possible water damage, buy a clear vinyl saucer or plastic sheet to put under the grower's container.
Decorations and lights Dress your living Christmas tree with your favorite decorations. Lights should be the small miniatures or LED types. They create a very bright light without releasing heat. Do not use spray snow that adheres to the needles.
After Christmas Set the tree in an unheated garage or carport for at least a week. This allows the plant to re-acclimate to the cold outdoors. Keep trees hosed off and watered during this time. Be sure to remove the saucer to allow for drainage.
Planting instructions Pick a nice sunny day to plant this holiday treasure. Plant like any other time of year, but remember stakes are essential to keep trees upright. The weight of snow can cause these trees to fall over, especially junipers, cypress and pines. Dig the hole the same depth as the root ball, but three times as wide. Use mulch to keep soil loose around the roots. Pack soil firmly with your foot to eliminate air pockets. Top dress the roots with a 2- to 3-inch layer of mulch to insulate and retain moisture. You must water once every two weeks until sometime in March when warm daytime temps return.
My Web site, www.wattersonline.com, has much more on these local garden topics. A detailed planting instruction with photos can be found under the "Garden Talk Topics" link on the left of the site. I encourage you to reference the Web site as a source of local garden information. If you are a gardener, I would also advise asking to be a part of my 'The Personal Gardener' program. Submit your e-mail and receive personal invitations to local garden events, garden center specials and weekly garden e-newsletter. Check the site out at www.wattersonline.com.
Until Next week, I'll see you in the garden center.