Tips to transplant a holiday tree into your landscape

by Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

For the holidays, tree lovers have two choices, and both of them are green.

Most of us buy precut trees from a tree farm, garden center or retail lot. Those who want to memorialize the holiday in their landscape for years to come can purchase a replantable, live tree.

Real holiday trees were a $1.2 billion business in 2006, with 28.6 million Americans choosing real over fake, according to the National Christmas Tree Association.

Artificial trees are the least environmentally friendly option. They're made from nonrenewable materials in a process that emits pollution. By contrast, live or cut trees improve the environment. Live trees clean up carbon dioxide and release oxygen, help control soil erosion and provide shelter for wildlife.

Cut trees contribute to the ecosystem when recycled into mulch, sunk in ponds as a habitat for fish or propped against a tree for a seasonal shelter for birds, says Dave Reese, Ohio Christmas Tree Association president.

For consumers who want to buy a live tree to transplant in the landscape later, follow these tips:

  • Dig the hole before the ground freezes. Dump leaves or other mulch in the hole and place a board over it to keep the soil from freezing. Place the soil you dug from the hole into a wheelbarrow and store it in a garage or shed.
  • Acclimate the tree in an unheated space, such as a garage or porch, for a few days before moving indoors.
  • Display the tree in a tub or bin that will accommodate the root ball and allow for watering.
  • Don't keep the tree indoors longer than three to five days. If kept indoors for long periods, the tree may break dormancy and start to grow.
  • Acclimate the tree in an unheated space for a few days before transplanting it in the landscape.
  • Remove the burlap or container and set the tree in the hole. The tree shouldn't be planted any deeper than it was in the container or before being dug from the field. It's better to plant the tree a bit high rather than too low.
  • Do not fertilize the tree at planting. Use the soil that came from the hole to plant the tree. Cover the area with shredded leaves or mulch. It's not necessary to water the specimen because it should be dormant.

Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp, freelance writer, author, speaker and photographer, is an Advanced Master Gardener and a regional director of the Garden Writers Association. A self-proclaimed trial-and-error gardener, she also enjoys spending time with her dog, Penn, and cat, Cowgirl.

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