Container-grown or balled-and-burlapped Christmas trees can be planted as landscape trees after the holidays. This is practical in Georgia, where the mild December or early January weather is ideal for tree planting.
Rooted trees can stay in the house for only a brief period of time, no more than 7 to 10 days. Longer periods indoors can stress the tree due to warm temperatures, low light levels, and low humidity.
Before you select a live tree, make sure it will fit into your landscape as it grows. Most evergreens used as Christmas trees will eventually reach mature heights of 40 to 60 feet. Select a species that is well-suited to the grow conditions in your area. The tree will be inside for a very short time compared to the time it will grow in your landscape.
Living trees are very heavy. The necessity to keep the roots constantly moist will make the tree even heavier. Be sure that you can manage to move this much weight around without damaging either the tree or yourself. Container-grown trees are usually lighter and easier to handle than balled-and-burlapped trees. Never carry a tree by the stem or main trunks — the weight of the tree can actually cause the root plate to crack and the tree will die. Only carry trees by lifting the root ball or container.
Some evergreens that will thrive throughout northern Georgia are giant arborvitae (Thuja plicata), Virginia Pine, eastern red cedar and other junipers, and varieties of Arizona cypress such as ‘Clemson Greenspire’ and ‘Carolina Sapphire.’ Some interesting choices that will grow throughout the state include the Japanese cedar (Cryptomeria japonica), deodar cedar, atlas cedar, and Hinoki false cypress (Chamaecyparis obtusa). White pine, eastern hemlock and spruces will also grow in our upper Piedmont areas when provided some shade during the long, hot summers. Most of these will also grow well in south Georgia, with the exception of white pine, eastern hemlock and spruces.
When bringing an evergreen indoors, locate it in as cool a location as possible. Keep it away from heating vents, fireplaces and other heat sources. Use limited numbers of miniature tree lights, as they can further dehydrate the tree. Provide as much natural light as possible.
Place the root ball or container in a tub that will hold water. Fill the bottom of the tub with two inches of gravel and place the root ball or container on the gravel. This will keep the tree from sitting in water. Keep the root ball constantly and evenly moist, but not flooded. A handy technique is to place crushed ice over the top of the root ball.
Plant the tree as soon as possible after the holidays. Do not wait until spring. If the work of bringing a live tree in and out of the house seems excessive, consider planting the tree directly outside and decorating it there. If you buy a tree after Christmas, look for deep discounts at your local garden center.
Select a planting site that has well-drained soil, full sun and enough space to accommodate the tree’s size once fully grown. Plant your tree in a hole that is the same depth, but at least twice as wide as the root ball, and preferably, three times wider. Be sure not to plant the tree too deeply — the root flare at the base of the stem should be slightly above grade. Remove any burlap and wire baskets completely since they can cause root girdling. Also remove containers from container-grown trees and cut and loosen any encircling roots.
Fill the hole around the freshly set tree with the loosened, native soil from the planting hole. Do not add any topsoil amendments or compost. Backfill around the root ball in stages by gently firming in each layer of soil.
Water the tree well to settle the soil and eliminate air pockets. Apply 2 to 3 inches of mulch on top of the root ball. It is not necessary to fertilize the tree until after the first growing season.
For more information, see the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Bulletin 932, “Soil Preparation and Planting Procedures for Ornamental Plants in the Landscape,” at http://t.uga.edu/1YV.