by Ana Morlier, The Crazy Plant Lady

Navigating the Trials  & Tree-bulations of    Christmas Trees

Merry December, readers! Now that the season of excess leftovers (still sitting in one’s freezer, never to be finished) and forced-family reunions are over (for now), it’s time for the winter celebrations to begin! I see that eye roll! Yes, I am fully aware that Walmart and other stores have brought “Christmas joy” well before I have, even in terms of trees and plant gifts. Instead, you will learn all the dos and don’ts of maintaining a Christmas tree in this article. You’ll also (hopefully) learn how to keep your leafy companion alive longer than the shelf life of eggnog. Here is my guide to Christmas tree-keeping!

Choose Your Fighter—What Tree Is Right for Me?

Either way (potted or cut tree), unless you are purchasing a Norfolk pine or rosemary tree, you’re going to need quite a bit of space. Potted trees do indeed take up slightly less space but are quite heavy and will need to be planted into the ground whenever the season is over. Again, unless it is a Norfolk pine, Christmas trees cannot stay in a pot. Potted trees are also going to need significantly more attention (I know, shock of all shockers), whether examining for bugs, root rot, over- and underwatering and overgrowth of the pot. Whereas for a cut tree, you’ll mainly need to make sure the water levels are above the end of the stump. Perhaps for bugs if extremely noticeable.

Potted trees allow you to gift a tree back to the Earth, but make sure you have a nice big pot for it, then find room somewhere in your yard to plant it permanently.

If you already feel the guilty beads of sweat rolling down your climate-conscious self, have no fear! There are many ways to reuse cut trees: Use needles as a natural mulch; cut off boughs to protect perennial beds from cold and snow; use the trunk as a flowerpot or fence (if you’re feeling crafty); rent a chipper and make wood chip mulch; use branches to support growing plants. But do NOT burn the tree in house fires or in wood stoves. Use renewable pellets if you feel so inclined, but you cannot burn tree remnants, or else you’ll inflict damage upon your most sacred heat source. Certainly not recommended during the dead of winter.

Once you have decided what tree type will work best for you, it’s time for some field research (pun intended). Basically, walk up to the tree you want and test its needles. For a healthy pine, the needles will bend and not break, and will be dark green and shiny. Healthy fir needles will break sharply and also retain an emerald color and shine. If you want to doublecheck that your tree is healthy, reach inside the trunk, and slightly shake the tree or branch. Only a few needles should fall. In addition, fresh growth and sticky sap are also quite a good sign. Both indicate that the tree retains moisture well.

Buy One, Get One Tree…Buying Tips

The later you buy a tree, the more likely you’ll have a fresh, green tree for Christmas. Most advise buying a tree in the first or second week of December.

Netting is excellent in protecting your tree from harsh winds but wrapping it in an old blanket is even more effective in preserving the branches.

If you are grabbing a tree from a pre-cut lot, cut a small portion of the trunk off at home to ensure proper circulation. Cut ½ to 1 inch off the trunk, without angling.

When you first set down your tree, try to check it 3-4 times a day since the tree will drain water pretty quickly. Add fresh, cool water (tap water is fine). Try to keep the tree trunk in a larger water basin so it has enough room and more than enough water to soak in (a stand with room to hold a gallon of water minimum and an opening wide enough to contain the whole tree trunk).

How to Keep Your Tree Lookin’ Like a Fine Pine

Keep your sen-tree in a cool place, away from any heating vents, heaters, or furnaces. Not only will it be less of a fire hazard, but it will keep the tree healthier for longer. It is perfectly fine to situate a tree next to a window, as it remains cool from external temperatures.

If you have heated floors, stand the tree on a mat or other surface to avoid contact with the heated floor, preferably in an area without direct sunlight, or even in a darker location.

Give your leafy companion a day or two to adjust to the new environment before putting on ornaments.

You can never overwater your tree! Make sure it is watered well above the end of the trunk or else the tree will dry out quickly.

Don’t add sugary substances (such as the rumored 7-up). While it won’t directly kill the tree, mold and bacteria buildup certainly will. Any additives will not make your tree healthier. If anything, it breeds an environment for mold. So, keep it simple with cold water, and your tree will be just fine.

Potted Tree Care

Use long, large, containers to give the tree roots plenty of room, with ample drainage. If you notice leaves turning yellow or other problems, the tree may be indicating that it has outgrown its pot or watering is not sufficient.

To keep it fresh for Christmas day, it is advised to not place/pot the tree in your home until one week before Christmas.

Check for watering information on the label, but aim to keep the soil moderately moist, perhaps watering every other day.

Signs of a Suffering Tree

Feed me, Seymour! Some signs of a suffering tree are: excessive needle loss; lack of smell; dried, brittle branches; and quickly yellowing branches.

If you observe these, check the water level! It may also be pests (you can take care of these with pesticides. I like to use natural neem oil), excessive heat, or decay from being bought too early. Trimming problem areas can reduce some damage, and providing fresh, cool water can help.

May these suggestions lead to a healthier, happier plant, to a place where you have one less thing to worry about during the holiday rush. I and my many leafy friends would appreciate it if you took the time to stop, breathe, and admire your hard-working tree.

Take care of yourself, and your tree, and relish this time of kinship. Even during the busiest of times, don’t forget to stop and smell the pine.

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