For many individuals, planting a live Christmas tree into the landscape after the holidays has a special appeal. However, planting an evergreen in winter in Iowa is a difficult proposition. Our harsh, winter weather (extreme cold, rapidly fluctuating temperatures, and dry winds) is often too much for the tree to endure.
If you are considering a live tree for Christmas, proper preparation and care of the tree are essential. Transplanting success can be increased by following the steps outlined below.
1. Choose a suitable planting site for the tree in fall. The site should provide adequate space for the tree to grow and develop.
2. Prepare the planting site in fall before the ground freezes. Remove the soil and place it in a location where it will not freeze. Fill the hole with straw.
3. Select a small, container-grown or balled and burlapped tree from a local nursery or garden center. A small tree has a much better chance of survival when planted outdoors. A small tree is also less expensive and easier to handle. (The size and weight of a large tree can make lugging the tree into the house and through doorways a real challenge.)
4. Store the tree in a cool garage, shed, or porch if it is purchased two or three weeks before Christmas. Make sure the soil is kept moist, but does not freeze.
5. Place the tree in a tub or large saucer when brought indoors to prevent damage to carpets or hardwood floors. Set the tree in a cool location within the home. Avoid sites near heat sources, such as a fireplace, registers, etc.
6. The tree should be kept indoors for only a short period. The shorter the tree's stay indoors, the better its chances of survival when planted outdoors. The maximum stay indoors should be 7 to 10 days. If the tree is kept indoors for a longer period, the tree's buds may break dormancy. When planted outdoors, the succulent new growth will be killed by cold temperatures.
7. Carefully decorate the tree with ornaments, garland, and lights (preferably the miniature types). Don't apply flocking or artificial snow to the tree.
8. Keep the soil moist throughout the tree's stay indoors. Check the soil daily and water as needed.
9. Shortly after Christmas, remove the tree from the house and place it in a cool location. (Don't place the tree directly outdoors. The sharply colder temperatures outdoors may injure the tree.) A short stay (several days) in a cool garage, shed, etc., allows the tree to become gradually acclimated to cooler temperatures. The soil should not be allowed to freeze during this period.
10. On a mild winter day, remove the straw from the planting area and plant the tree outdoors. Water well and mulch the area heavily to prevent the soil from freezing immediately.
Individuals should carefully consider the requirements and risks associated with a live Christmas tree. An evergreen can be successfully planted outdoors after the holidays. However, proper site preparation and good tree care are essential.