Zero To Hero: Christmas Tree Care

For many, the Holiday season has not truly begun until the Christmas tree is up and decorated. The tree is such a symbolic icon of the season and yet little information is readily available on how to select, care for, and what to do with it after the holidays have come and gone.


Selecting a Christmas Tree

The challenges of the COVID pandemic have left holes in the supply chain for everything from lumber to grocery store staples and unfortunately, this year’s Christmas tree selection will likely reflect this. Interestingly, some of the shortage dates back all the way to 2008 and the recession, which caused a natural reaction to decrease tree plantings due to uncertainty of the economic climate. Coupling those two events together equates to potential slim pickings of the holiday classic, Frasier Fir (Abies fraseri).


The “OG” Christmas Tree


Firs have become the ionic Christmas tree due to their beautiful triangular shape, dense branching, and heavenly fragrance that permeates weeks after they are first cut. Chances are, if you have purchased a tree before, this is what you had. Due to shortages, this icon might not be as easy to obtain, especially if you are after a height above 12 feet.


Luckily, there are numerous conifer species that perform just as well and may make more sense for your region and climate. If you are particularly invested in native plant species and lowering your carbon footprint, this might be a good excuse to switch to taking a new tree for a spin.


For houseplant aficionados, many of these can double as lovely foliage most of the year when not adorned in festive attire for the holidays. Below are a few choices to consider:


Norfolk Island Pines (Araucaria heterophylla)


Well loved for their feathery foliage, these trees are robust enough to support string lights and ornaments while managing not to look out of place when disrobed after the holidays.


Spruce (Picea spp.)


Particularly the Alberta, has that classic triangular shape you associate with the classic and happens to make a stellar entryway plant the rest of the year.


Cypress (Cupressus spp.)


With dozens of species performing well both indoors and out, this tree can easily be transplanted outside after the holiday season, serving as a reminder of the holiday memories all year.


Rosemary (Salvia rosmarinus)


Even apartment dwellers can get in on the living tree action! Rosemary, a semi-woody perennial shrub, can be trimmed topiary style into the perfect Christmas tree shape, making it the ideal size for small spaces. One can extend the magic over to holiday meal preparation by including fresh rosemary sprigs right from the Christmas tree.


Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana)


Native to the Southern U.S., the red cedar is another great choice for those who want to plant their tree after the holidays have passed. The shape and color is in line with the fir, though the scent will be absent. The unique color and beautiful bark is more than enough to replace it.


Figs (Ficus spp.)


For those looking to mix it up, Figs of all kinds make for unique Christmas trees when dressed for the occasion! Fiddle leaf and weeping are especially grand and look stellar in just about any home setting.


As with all houseplants, knowing the requirements of each is essential to their success. Be sure to follow recommendations for light, moisture, watering and fertilization to ensure longevity. Want more information? Reach out to Plant Heros for customized, individual recommendations for all of your plants, indoors and out.


Caring For Live, Cut Trees

Ready to up your Christmas Tree game? There are quite a few factors that go into getting the most out of your tree before you even get it into the door!


Measure your space first


Your Holidays are not going to be off to a great start if the tree you select will not fit through the door! You also do not want to purchase a tree that is too large for your living room, either. Getting out that measuring tape will help avoid both scenarios. Measure from floor to ceiling, keeping in mind your tree has to be propped up by a stand, so extra room needs to be accounted for.


Bring your stand with you


Speaking of that stand, it’s not a bad idea to bring that along when Christmas tree shopping. It’s the ultimate way to get the true visual of how your tree will look on display and can be a helpful tool for getting water to your tree quicker when it’s cut. Despite already being cut, as in a nursery, garden center, or parking lot pop up, a fresh cut is always made to the tree to encourage longevity.


Secure with a rope or chord during transportation


Getting the tree home is another area often overlooked! If you are not lucky enough to have an enclosed trailer or pickup, likely the tree is going on the roof. Make sure you leave the house with adequate twine, rope, or bungee cords to secure it. The needles are less likely to be blown off when the trunk is facing towards the front of the car, so make sure you take care in the direction you place it. If you have to get on the highway and are likely going above 50 miles an hour, your tree might create a seal over the fresh cut to protect itself from the incoming blast.


Setting Up the Tree


Once you arrive home, clear the space you choose from any items that may hinder setup, and put down a tarp or protective layer. Once satisfied with the location, remove the tarp or bag and fill the tree stand base with fresh water. Be sure to keep an eye on the water level the first day as the dryness caused by heaters, electric heat, and even warm Christmas lights can shorten the lifespan of your tree. One way to avoid this is to choose cooler shades of lights to help protect your tree from drying out early on.


Get the tree into a stand with water quickly (within 6-8 hours)


When you buy your cut Christmas Tree, the nursery will more than likely take a fresh cut off the base of the tree. Conifers produce sap, which the tree uses to seal over wounds, which can prevent adequate water uptake if the tree is not placed in a stand with water relatively quickly.


If the trip back home is short, place the tree into a stand with water immediately. If

your tree has started the healing process, you can always make a fresh cut which will help prevent it from wilting and dropping needles once home. Make a clean cut perpendicular to the stem of the tree to allow for optimal water uptake. Make sure to get your tree in the stand with water within 2 hours of arriving home for best results.


Check the water levels daily


Just like all plants, watering correctly can make or break your success with getting the most enjoyment from your cut tree. It takes about 6 hours for a fresh cut tree to start the healing process, where it will create a protective seal of dried sap around the fresh cut edge. It is essential to make sure the water level stays above the base of the tree to avoid this from occurring. The base of the tree always needs to be in contact with fresh water to allow for continued uptake as well as to deter the tree from healing.


It’s not unusual for a cut tree to take in as much as a gallon of water or more within the first 24 hours of being a guest in your home. Following this initial settling period, it will take in between 1 or 1.5 quarts of water a day. You can generally tell when your tree is not getting enough water when the needles appear dry and brittle, and the boughs are drooping/wilting.


Water is also the secret ingredient for keeping your tree fragrant! The aromatic oils produced are dependent on water to move throughout the tree, causing the release of the beautiful fragrance. If you are not noticeably picking up any fragrance, it might be time to check the water levels.


Consider replanting your tree or other responsible disposal options


By early January, a cut tree has run its course and it is time for it to move on. There are several different options for Christmas tree disposal, especially if you are not content with just throwing it in a dumpster. Be sure to check your local county’s waste management page for specifications on Christmas tree collection. Many cities have unique programs in place, where they will exchange live trees for dead ones to foster community tree planting. Other districts pair with local arborists to create mulch out of old trees, which can go on to protect, insulate, and nourish other plant life. Finally, consider a living tree this season to keep cherished holiday memories alive for generations.

References:


Tips for Selection and Care of Cut Christmas Trees.” Penn State Extension, https://extension.psu.edu/tips-for-selection-and-care-of-cut-christmas-trees.


Selection and Care of Living Christmas Trees | NC State Extension Publications. https://content.ces.ncsu.edu/selection-and-care-of-living-christmas-trees.


Christmas Trees - University of Florida, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. https://gardeningsolutions.ifas.ufl.edu/plants/trees-and-shrubs/trees/christmas-trees.html.


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