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Trees have been synonymous with Christmas for centuries. One recent but growing trend is using a living Christmas tree to decorate your home. These differ from fresh-cut trees because they are potted and will eventually be planted in the landscape.
This trend has many supporters. Some like the idea of promoting trees as living symbols of Christmas. Others take a more practical approach: they want a tree for their landscape after the holiday season. Some build on that idea as they create living remembrances of successive family events.
Austrian pines are popular, as are the colored Colorado blue spruces. The grafted cultivars 'Baby Blue Eyes' is a dwarf blue spruce that grows 12-15 feet high and eventually gets about that wide. 'Fat Albert' is another very blue cultivar that eventually gets about that same size.
Another favorite is the Oriental spruce. 'Deer Run' is an excellent cultivar that grows 25 feet high but gets only 6-8 feet wide. It is a good substitute for a fir tree. Limber pine is a good native plant that has longer, soft needles, and it looks good in landscapes.
Another good dual-purpose tree is the Pinyon pine. This Utah native is an excellent landscape tree for low-water use areas. It is also highly fragrant while it is indoors. The Swiss stone pine is another slow-growing tree that adapts well to Utah landscapes. This type works well as an indoor Christmas tree, and it transplants well outdoors.
One major difference between living Christmas trees and fresh-cut trees is that the living trees tolerate a more limited life inside the home. If you keep them inside too long, they won't survive the transplanting transition outdoors.
Customers need to realize that these trees should stay indoors for no longer than 10 days. If they are inside longer than that, they dry out and won't grow outside.
Living Christmas trees are sensitive to warm, dry conditions. These trees are dormant as the sit in the nursery. After they are brought inside and decorated, they quickly start to acclimate to the warm temperatures, causing them to break buds. They then start to grow.
After bringing the tree indoors, place it in a cool location away from direct sunlight. Besides keeping living trees out of the sunlight, keep them away from heat sources, such as wood stoves, fireplaces, heater vents and televisions.
The trees have to be kept well watered during the time they are inside. One trick is to pile ice cubes around the base of the tree. As the ice melts, it slowly is absorbed by the soil. This soaks the root ball and keeps the water from running off.
People often find that when they go to transplant the tree, the only soil they can find that isn't frozen is next to the foundation of the house. But putting a tree there is problematic as it can quickly outgrow the site and must be removed prematurely.
To avoid this problem, dig the transplanting hole in their yard before the soil freezes. Cover the soil that you dig out with leaves or a canvas to keep it from freezing so you can shovel it back in the hole after Christmas.
If you are not able to dig the planting hole, keep the tree watered while it is outside so it does not dehydrate and die," he advised.
Another bit of good advice is to slowly acclimate the tree as it makes the transition outside. Moving a tree from a warm home to subzero temperatures can be fatal. Move the tree to the garage for a few days, and then move it outside.
The most common mistake people make is selecting a tree based on the way it looks in the pot, not what it will do in the landscape. The tree will be in the home for 7-10 days but will be in the landscape for a lifetime.
Avoid buying a tree that will eventually get very large, such as a full-sized blue spruce.
Base the selection of the tree on more than shape and color. Living trees can be balled and burlapped, container grown or potted. When you buy them, they are always in a container to facilitate handling the tree. Small trees are usually a better choice than large trees because they are easier to handle. They also have a higher probability of having a large enough root system to help them survive transplanting.
Written by: Larry A. Sagers Horticulture Specialist Utah State University Extension Service Thanksgiving Point Office