Live Christmas tree needs a home after the holidays

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It's a heavy topic: Bringing a tree with an intact root ball indoors for the holidays. 

We buy a tree for the holidays that we can plant afterward.

But this is our sixth or seventh year and we're running out of places to plan them. Are there parks or farms somewhere that would like these trees, for reforestation? - M.C. -


Right: Once a live evergreen adjusts to a warm environment, it will take it a week or more in mild cold to reacquire the hardiness it needs to make it through the winter. Cold, but not freezing, temperatures will prompt it to withdraw water from its cells. The cells will be saltier and thus have a lower freezing point. If your live tree was indoors more than a week, it may have been coaxed into breaking bud -- beginning to leaf out. Then you may have to find a place such as a cool greenhouse where it can remain through winter, or simply give up the plan to plant it and grow it on.



Been there, done that! After many years of tree placement, some of our friends drop into defensive stance and answer very guardedly if we mention having a tree in need of a home!

You can certainly check with park managers near you. Don't get your hopes up, however. Winter doesn't offer much good planting weather, large transplants that should have regular watering aren't a great fit into natural areas with no irrigation, and park management may be understandably reluctant to undertake administering such a program.


Heavy work!

We had balled-and-burlapped trees for our holiday season many times and still recall the strain of muscling such a heavy thing into the house. We can't imagine carrying one cross country through winter snow or mud, following a park service map to a field in need of trees.


Star - hedge - star possibility

Why not grow them for five or six years and then let each one do holiday service once more as a cut tree? Young conifers make a good hedge, becoming less effective with age as they develop increasing space between branches or lose lower limbs. You could have the best from the plants by creating a hedge from which one tree is removed and replaced each year.

Keep a live tree plant-able through the holidays.

  • Dig the hole before the ground freezes.
  • Stash bags or buckets of soil in a basement or another place that doesn't freeze, so you will have workable backfill for a wintertime planting.
  • Bring the tree in for just a few days; a week, tops.
  • Slip a heavy duty plastic bag around the root ball so you can keep the tree moist.
  • When you return the tree to the outdoors, give it time to gradually re-acquire hardiness. Place it for a week or two in the shelter of an unheated garage or shed, or on the north side of a building with bagged leaves tucked all around it.
  • Begin watering the tree regularly at the first late winter thaw.
  • Keep the root zone moist for as many years as inches in trunk diameter at planting time. (Two years for a tree with a two-inch diameter trunk.)