Time to make those tough Christmas Tree decisions | SierraSun.com
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Time to make those tough Christmas Tree decisions

Column by Eric Larussen, Villager Nursery

When it comes to choosing between a real Christmas tree or an artificial Christmas bush from the drug store, I think it’s an easy decision. Who doesn’t love the crisp, fresh smell of a real tree and the flood of childhood memories it evokes. The real decision is between a freshly cut tree and a living tree.If you are considering a living Christmas tree…Most people choose a living Christmas tree because they need one in their garden, some because they can re-use the same tree for several years and a few because they don’t want to kill a sapling for their holiday centerpiece.If you wish to enjoy your living Christmas tree in your garden after Christmas, select a species that is extremely cold-hardy, tolerant of abuse and easy to transplant. Blue, green, Norway and Black Hills spruces as well as lodgepole, Jeffrey and bristlecone pines, giant sequoia and incense cedar are all suitable as living Christmas trees in our climate.Red and white firs are beautiful native trees but they transplant poorly, seldom survive and grow very weakly. Spruces present the same uniform branching and “perfect Christmas tree” shape as fir but with ideal landscape properties.Spruces are the easiest living Christmas trees. Picea pungens, AKA Colorado blue spruce (the state tree of Utah), is hardy and fast growing. No other evergreen, native or not, grows as fast as a blue spruce in our climate. With amended soil, fertilization, mulch and regular water, they may grow as much as 4 feet a year.In the Rocky Mountains, the native blue spruces grow at elevations up to and above 11,000 feet and they may reach heights of over 100 feet. They grow on mountainsides and along mountain streams near red-twig dogwood, quaking aspen and chokecherries.There is huge genetic variation within the species and many color and shape variations occur. Although some trees may be completely green, a waxy coating on the needles of most blue spruces creates a glaucous (blue-green to silvery-white) coloring. As the thickness and persistence of the wax increases, so does the intensity of the “blue.” Many named cultivated varieties are grafted onto rootstock of Norway or seedling blue spruce. Blue colored blue spruces are often designated picea pungens “glauca.”Spruces have been used for centuries as windbreaks and screens because of their rapid growth rate and their extremely dense habit. Unlike most pines, which only keep their needles for 2 seasons, the spruce hold onto their needles and lower branches for many years.Insuring your living Christmas tree thrives– Bring a tarp to cover your living tree if you plan to transport it in an open truck. The unnaturally rapid drop in temperature that can occur with wind chill this time of year may damage your tree.– Consider preparing the hole now for use after the holidays. Cover the hole with boards for safety and easier access.– When outdoors, protect the tree’s rootball from the sun. Cover the roots with snow.– While indoors, place the tree away from heat sources like wood stoves, furnaces and heat registers.– Keep the tree indoors for 10 days or less – any longer and you lower its chances of survival.– While indoors, keep the soil moist. Water daily with a little snow or ice. Mist frequently if possible. A snow saucer works well as a catch under the trees.– Decorate carefully with cool miniature lights.– After Christmas, slowly re-acclimate the tree to the cold outside. In the morning, move the tree from the house to a transition location of barely freezing intermediate temperature (a garage or sheltered porch) where it will remain for at least a week or as many days as it was indoors.– After the transition, move the tree from the garage or porch to the prepared hole or to a location where the root ball will be out of the sun and where the tree will receive natural snowfall. Cover the rootball with pine needles or bury it in the snow if possible. Keep your tree’s roots cold and moist all winter. Avoid repeated freezing and thawing of the root-ball.– Finish planting in the spring.– If you intend to keep the tree in a pot for several years, in the spring, transplant the tree into a pot which has a diameter at least 2 inches greater than the one which it is now in.You might just place a 5-foot potted blue spruce outside your living room window. Decorate the tree with twinkle lights, carved cedar ornaments and strings of cranberry or popcorn for the birds. Oil-type sunflower seed can also be sprinkled over the tree to attract and feed dozens of chickadees at a time. Keep your house rich with the smell of fresh wreaths, boughs and wool stockings by the fire.An option for families that have no room for another tree but do not wish to cut one down is to donate their living Christmas tree to a park. In the past, our Parks & Recreation district has been willing to pickup and plant the donated trees around the parks, ball fields, and schools (they could use a row on the south east side of the ice rink now). We have arranged this several times.Eric Larusson, a co-owner of the Villager Nursery, holds Bachelor degrees in Molecular Biology and Agriculture with major studies in Botany and Horticulture and has been gardening in cold climates for more than 30 years.


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