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Be a Sustainable Gardener – Save a Tree and The Landfill For the Holidays – Purchase a Live Potted Tree

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holiday celebration

Dear Casual Gardener,

Our family gets a holiday tree every year that we just throw out in the landfill. It seems like a total waste, yet our family loves the smell of fresh pine. Do you have any “green” and helpful ideas on an alternative?


Needs Help Nancy

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Dear Nancy,

A tree is a very traditional part of an American holiday celebration. However, the “real” trees we get are cut weeks before delivery and are often “dead” before we ever get them placed in the home (see above pre-cut trees).

Having the fresh cut tree smell of pine is still possible without cutting a tree down – use a live tree. If you must use a cut tree, ask your local officials about tree recycling or if it is possible to chip the tree to use as garden mulch – which is fantastic for your community landscape projects as well as your personal garden.

Nurseries offer live, potted Christmas trees in many varieties from Blue Spruce to Scotch Pine to Dwarf Pine types. These potted trees are usually sold at two to six feet tall. Unfortunately, the trees only have a 50% to 75% rate of success at being replanted in the gardening zones where a hard freeze occurs, usually due to poor indoor tree maintenance by owners. Before purchasing a live pine, predetermine where the tree will be planted following the holidays. Consider the mature size of the tree and the weight of the potted tree. Have the nursery hold the tree until you are very close to your holiday celebration because it should only be brought inside for seven days.

Two important factors for potted tree failure are; 1) allowing the root ball to dry out, and 2) keeping the tree indoors too long. Seven days indoors is the maximum time recommended by arborists, but five days is even better. Many families have developed a tradition of bringing the tree indoors for decoration on Christmas Eve and planting it outdoors on New Year’s Day. Pre-digging the planting hole is strongly suggested as the ground can be frozen in late December and early January. Store the soil backfill in the garage or outdoors in a black plastic bag so it is less likely to freeze.

Keeping the potted tree in the garage for a few days before bringing it indoors is advisable, but be sure to frequently check the root ball to ensure it stays moist. After the holidays, the tree can again be placed in the garage for a few days to acclimate to a colder environment before planting in the freezing outdoors.

Be careful not to break limbs by hanging heavy ornaments or large lights which sometimes generate heat. Place the tree away from all heat generating appliances and fireplaces to increase the chances at survival when planted.

Happy Tree Planting Holidays!

Shawna Coronado says Get Healthy! Get Green! Get Community!

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  1. You can also rent a tree in some places. They come and deliver the tree and pick it up from you and then plant it. There are only a few of these companies, but it's another alternative 🙂

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