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Thu, March 21

The secrets to a successful living Christmas tree

Ken Lain poses with a living Christmas tree.

Courtesy Ken Lain poses with a living Christmas tree.

Poinsettias, Christmas cacti and amaryllises arrived at the garden center this week; last weekend's grand opening of Watters' annual Christmas boutique was a great success; and the largest portion of fresh-cut Christmas trees will arrive the day after Thanksgiving. The holiday season is upon us, so here we go again!

I often have written and talked about using living Christmas trees instead of cut ones for the holidays. For some reason the number of folks wanting living evergreens has peaked this year. I don't know what has sparked this interest, but I had to order two more truckloads of trees this year than I have in the past.

Over the years I've sold all types of trees as living Christmas trees, even dormant fruit trees. Any tree can be decorated and used as holiday decoration. Many people decorate a tree and simply leave it on the deck, patio or entryway throughout the season. The most popular choices are Colorado spruce, with their perfectly-layered shape; Austrian pine, which look like mini Ponderosa pines; and Alberta spruce - cute, cuddly and bushy.

There are a few techniques and tips to use with trees that will spend holiday time indoors before being planted outside. Let's go through the steps of successfully maintaining and planting a living Christmas tree.

Living Christmas trees can be safely kept indoors 7 to 10 days. Make sure you don't exceed the 10-day rule because the winter indoor environment is very drying. It's important not to exceed this time limit as it will affect the survivability of the tree. Trees used for outdoor decorations can be kept in their pots for months until planted in the spring.

At the garden center we water these trees every 2 to 3 days. At home you should do the same. Once the tree is indoors situate it at least 10 feet from a wood stove or fireplace. Do not place it where heat from a furnace duct will blow directly on the tree and avoid placing it in a sunny window. Protect trees from drying out by spraying the needles with "Wilt Stop" plant protector, a clear polymer anti-transpirant. It slows trees' loss of water through their needles.

Check the trees daily to be sure the soil is not dry. This is very important! A vinyl saucer or plastic sheet under the trees will protect flooring from watering accidents. Ice cubes are an ideal way to water living trees. They work like an artificial drip system as the ice slowly melts and cools and moistens the root. Living trees can be decorated but lights should be the small miniature types as they burn without releasing heat. Do NOT use spray snow that adheres to the needles.

After the holidays, living trees should be set in an unheated garage, carport, a shady protected location, or just at the North side of a house. They should be left there for a week to allow acclimation to outdoor temperatures. They have been toasty warm indoors for the holidays and now must get used to the outdoors. The trees should be hosed off and kept watered during this period. Be sure to remove the plastic wrap or saucers used indoors to allow for proper drainage.

Any nice day in January is a good time to plant the trees. Snow can load up on trees causing them to lean, especially on varieties like upright juniper, cypress, and pine, so remember to use stakes to keep the trees upright. Also, remember that trees planted in winter will have to be watered twice a month. For more information ask for my "Mountain Planting Guide" the next time you visit the garden center.

Here's an insider's tip: Shop early for living trees. Choose from the best of the crops by shopping for living Christmas trees before the end of November. The first two Saturdays after Thanksgiving are the busiest shopping days for Christmas trees. Because people's moods always are elevated when they're shopping for Christmas trees, I love these days. It's fun to help happy people choose the perfect trees for their holidays.

Until next week, I'll see you at the garden center.

Ken Lain's personal mission is to help others by increasing their garden success. For personal advice, Ken can be found at Watters Garden Center, located at 1815 W. Iron Springs Rd.


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