Homegrown: Planting evergreens

I would like to buy an evergreen tree for Christmas that I can plant later.  I’ve heard different things about different trees, such as they may not survive until spring (to plant outside) or that you can’t keep them inside or out (in a container) for that long of a time. Do you have any suggestions, or should I stick to an artificial?

— Judi

Lots of people like the idea of using a potted, living evergreen tree as their Christmas tree and then planting it out in the yard the following spring.

It just makes sense. Why spend the money to buy two trees just to throw one away after the holidays? But there are a couple of rules you need to follow.

The first rule is that while you can bring them inside, you can’t keep them inside for very long. We recommend you only keep it in the house for four or five days. Longer than that, you run a risk of fooling the plant into thinking it is spring.

If the tree breaks dormancy, it is no longer able to withstand the cold temperatures of winter and would die or be severely damaged if put outside.

The alternative would be to keep the tree in the house throughout the winter and then put it outside come spring.

This almost never works. Conifer trees just make lousy houseplants. It’s almost impossible to provide enough light to the tree, unless you have a greenhouse, and we see lots of problems with spider mites on trees in the house.

The second rule is to transition the tree into your house and back out again. What you want to do is put the tree in an “in between” type of space that’s colder than inside the house, but warmer than the outdoors. Most people use their garage for this.

Put the tree in the garage for a couple of days, then into the house for four or five, back into the garage for two or three days, and then outdoors for the remainder of the winter.

If it is not too cold and the ground hasn’t frozen, plant the tree after you take it outside. Usually, however, the ground’s pretty hard and you’ll have to winter it in the pot. Put the tree in the shade outdoors and be sure to water it occasionally through the winter — once every month or so (more often for smaller pots, less so for larger).

Bringing a potted conifer tree through the winter isn’t hard as long as you protect it from bright sun (which can desiccate the foliage) and make sure the soil in the pot doesn’t dry out.

It surprises people to know that drought will kill a plant just as dead in January as it will in July.

Only being able to keep your tree inside four or five days discourages many people from trying this, but if you’re willing to modify some Christmas traditions, it is something to consider.

Another option (instead of bringing it into your home) is to keep it outdoors in front of a sliding glass door or large window. You can decorate it and not worry about it getting fooled into thinking it is spring.

I suppose the tree is a little less personal that way and you’ll have to be sure your ornaments will hold up exposed to the weather, but you’ll have a nice tree to plant in the spring.

I would like to know when the best time is to transplant my Rose of Sharon.

— Linda

I think early spring is the best time to transplant your Rose of Sharon. I usually tell people to get it done sometime in March.

Dennis Hill is the nursery manager at Bookcliff Gardens, http://www.bookcliffgardens.com. Send questions to Bookcliff Gardens, 755 26 Road, Grand Junction 81506; or e-mail .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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