Christmas has a dark side?

Every year, we see the same sight: discarded Christmas trees by the curb, waiting to be picked up and disposed of. With just a little imagination, you can visualize 30 million of such trees, cut down for just one reason, and that is for a few days or weeks of merriment in December each year. Each of these trees took 6 or 7 years to reach cutting size! For plant and tree lovers, the death of these trees is the dark side of Christmas.

However, we can choose differently, at least those of us who feel the loss every time we see one of those luckless pines by the roadway. If you have some land, you can indulge your passion for gardening, plus do a little something for the planet too. For you, buying a living, potted Christmas tree this season is the right option.

Which do I choose?

Of course, first you need to know your zone, and which of the Christmasy trees will thrive and grow in that zone. Sadly, I'm out of luck in that department, being in a zone where none of the traditional Christmas pines will grow. However, most people live in a state where at least one of these favorite trees can be grown. For some of you, the choices are many!

ImageYour first stop should be a nursery that grows pines for your area. You are likely to find that they already anticipated your visit and have various Christmas pines available for purchase. If not, you can still look around and see what they do have in stock. If I still lived in Maryland or Virginia, I'd be looking at Colorado Blue Spruce, or perhaps Fraser Fir. I suggest a little research to see which of the most-often-used pines can be grown in your area. Don't hesitate to be creative if your zone doesn't permit the traditional kinds of trees. Even Floridians can select evergreens that are not often thought of as Christmas trees, such as Italian or Leyland Cypress.

How do I do it?

The first consideration is that live pine trees purchased in December are already dormant for the winter. This means that you need to take extra special care to be sure that the tree doesn't come out of dormancy. This is because, when the time comes to plant your tree in the yard, winter will still be in full swing. The way you work this out is, firstly, to plan on having your tree inside your home for no longer than 10 days, and preferably 7 days. Secondly, you need to acclimatize the tree when bringing it inside and when taking it back outside. You should introduce your evergreen to warmer temperatures gradually over a period of days, bringing from the nursery to your patio, then to your garage or other cool enclosed space, and finally into your home. The same process is done in reverse when preparing the tree to go back outside.

Be sure you don't overwater or underwater your tree, and resist the temptation to fertilize, as that will be likely to induce breaking of dormancy. Also, it's best for you to place your tree in front of a bay window or other window where radiational cooling will make the indoor microclimate a little cooler than in the rest of the house.

Be ready to plant your tree.

One important preparation, even before your purchase of the tree, is to ready a planting hole to receive it after Christmas. You don't want to be trying to excavate in frozen ground, so once you've decided on a living potted tree for Christmas, you need to choose the planting location and dig your hole. To keep the ground from freezing, mulch your hole heavily so when you are ready, the hole will still be usable for your tree.

Remember that you want your tree to spend the minimum amount of time possible in the warm house, so the sooner after Christmas Day you plant, the better. You can even start a family tradition and make the tree planting a part of your holiday celebration. If you have children, by all means involve them in the selection and in the planting of the tree, and it will become a milestone of happy times for them.

This way, on Christmas night as you lay yourself down to rest, you can sleep assured in the knowledge that you are being true to your gardening passion and being true to the best interests of the planet.

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(Editor's Note: This article was originally published on December 11, 2007. Your comments are welcome, but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to promptly respond to new questions or comments.)