ASK THE MASTER GARDENERS
Q: I’ve always wanted to try a live evergreen as my indoor Christmas tree, something I can plant in the yard later. Any advice?
A: Well-rooted, potted trees from a reputable source have the best chance of survival because their roots have not been injured during the digging process necessary for balled trees. Balled trees are an option if they are properly dug and maintained before and after planting. Your tree should be thick and green (no needle drop) with healthy, pliable branches.
Fir trees come in two varieties, Douglas and Balsam. Here in the Northeast, they are good for cut trees but have problems in the landscape. Blue or white spruce are acceptable landscape trees. The Norway spruce often does not survive its time indoors. White pine is native to our area, but sensitive to road salt. Scotch pine is an option, but it tends to get shabby with age.
All of these evergreens require well-drained soil. Choose your site carefully, paying attention to the tree’s mature size and growth habit. Some trees prefer acidic conditions, some tolerate neutral soil and some are intolerant of road salt. Evergreen trees cast dense shade, have many superficial roots and are competitive with a lawn or other plants. Prepare the planting hole before the ground freezes and save the fill in a frost-free place for later use. Set posts that will support a wind screen outside the edge of the hole.
During its stay indoors — a few days at most — water the tree well, but don’t let the soil get soggy or to dry out at any point. Before bringing it in, keep it an unheated garage or shed. Indoors, give it a cool spot, far from any heat source.
As soon as possible after Christmas, set the tree in the planting hole, fill with reserved soil and water well. If the ground is dry, continue watering at weekly intervals, unless the soil is frozen. Pay special attention to watering for its first few seasons, and perhaps build a windscreen to reduce moisture loss during the first winters outdoors.
Krys Mernyk, Master Gardener, Cornell Cooperative Extension of Westchester