By: Sandy Feather ©2014
Penn State Extension
Q. My family would like to get a live tree that we can plant out in the yard after the holidays. Can you recommend a type that will survive this better than others? Any suggestions you have for successfully planting a tree in the dead of winter are welcome.
A. Planting a live Christmas tree after the holidays is a wonderful way to preserve holiday memories and add special meaning to the trees in your landscape. You can choose a true fir, Douglas fir, pine or spruce. Any of these conifers should do well if you take proper care of them while they are indoors and have the space in your yard for a mature tree. Most will grow 60-80 feet tall with a spread about half the height.
Live trees may be container-grown or balled-and-burlapped — Be aware that B&B trees are heavy. You may find that one in a large container is easier to handle.
Balled & Burlapped (B&B) spruce trees at a nursery
Make sure the site where you want to plant the tree has full sun and good drainage. Most conifers are intolerant of poorly drained soil. Dig the hole before the ground freezes and set the soil aside in an area where it will not freeze, such as an attached garage.
Keep the tree outdoors until you are ready to decorate it for Christmas. Do not keep it indoors longer than 7 to 10 days. You risk the tree breaking dormancy and being damaged or killed by severe weather if you keep it indoors longer. Keep it away from fireplaces, registers and other heat sources. You may choose to set the thermostat a little lower than normal, too.
It is best if the tree has as much natural light as possible while indoors. Place the root ball or container into a large tub that will hold water. While you want to keep the root ball moist, it is important that it does not sit in water. An easy way to water is to place crushed ice over the top of the root ball.
When Christmas is over, move the tree to an unheated garage or outbuilding to acclimate it to outside temperatures for a week or so. If weather is mild, you may plant it directly in your chosen site. Backfill with the soil you stored away when you dug the hole. Water well to settle the soil and eliminate air pockets, then mulch with 3-4 inches of shredded bark, shredded leaves or other organic material. Keep the mulch a few inches away from the trunk. Check the tree whenever the ground is not frozen to make sure the root ball is moist, and water if necessary.
It is not a bad idea to use an anti-desiccant such as Wilt-Pruf to minimize moisture loss through transpiration. This is a worse problem on newly transplanted trees that have not established enough of a root system to replace lost moisture. Anti-desiccants are usually available at garden centers to protect evergreens in the landscape from winter drying. They come in ready-to-use formulations or as concentrates that are mixed with water and applied with a pump-up sprayer. Be aware that such products will dissolve the waxy coating that makes blue conifers blue.