Live or live cut for the holidays?

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Picking out the perfect Christmas tree was something that I used to take very serious: all the cleaning and moving of furniture and packing of boxes and light-stringing and unstringing required a tree worth the effort! I have scaled back in recent years but still see the fun in finding a tree that fits your space and holds precious ornaments with style.

So which type of tree reflects your holiday?  Do you get a fresh cut, artificial, balled and burlapped?  Or do you just go out-of-town and let someone else do the decorating?  All are certainly acceptable but there are different rules that apply to each. Obviously the artificial ilk has few restrictions but there are some things to remember if you get a fresh cut or balled burlapped tree for planting after the holidays.  

Rucut the trunk

When choosing a fresh cut tree use your sense of smell and touch, fresh trees will be more fragrant and the needles will be flexible yet firm.  Certainly take into account the type of tree because the needles of a white pine will be softer than that of a Fraser fir.  Also check the freshness by bouncing the butt of the trunk on the ground a couple of times to see how many needles actually fall from the tree.  A few green and brown needles are normal.

If you are not quite ready to bring the tree in once you have purchased it then just get it in water and store it outside in the shade.  The sooner you can get the trunk recut and in water the better…and in order to get your tree to drink you must have the stump end recut.   The original cut sealed over long ago so no water will be absorbed unless a fresh cut is made.  Get the folks at the garden center to recut the end just before you leave and pop it into a pale of water as soon as you get home.  Ideally the trees will drink about a quart of water a day when fresh.

The majority of fresh-cut trees that are purchased in Kentuckiana come from tree farms out of North Carolina and these growers are anticipating a bumper crop out of the state for 2012 so we should see some quality trees at the local garden centers.  Local u-cut operations are an option for live-cut trees, too.  Check with your county extension for local growers.

Replant after Christmas

Live-cut trees are a renewable resource and one that you can reuse and recycle in the garden once you are finished.  If you have beds of iris or daylilies, for example,  cut the branches from the used tree and place them over the crowns of the plants to prevent them from heaving out of the ground due to freezing and thawing.  Remove the branches in early spring before new growth begins.

Purchasing a balled and burlapped tree for the holidays is a popular tradition for many families but it takes some special care.  A live evergreen is not well-suited to the indoor environment during the holidays.  Our homes are typically dry and warm and if a live evergreen (intended to live outside) is in this environment too long it will break dormancy; the tree should stay in the house for about one week, tops.  Keep your house as cool as you can and make sure that the root ball stays moist.

The logistics of having a live b and b tree can be tricky.  Root balls can easily weigh 75 to 100 pounds so moving the tree in and out of the house is no easy task. Keep the size as small as possible, preferably no taller than six feet.  A smaller tree can be moved around more easily without damaging the root ball; we want to make sure that the root ball remains intact and doesn’t loosen or crumble under the weight of the tree.

Since planting will take place shortly after Christmas be prepared for the weather at this rate the ground likely will not be freezing but it could be soggy wet, which could cause problems digging.  Consider digging your hole now and cover it with plastic so it is ready to go and you can get the tree in the ground right after Christmas.  

(Jeneen Wiche is an avid gardener from Shelbyville. She can be reached at Jwiche@shelbybb.net. or at  www.SwallowRailFarm.com)