Tis the season when lots of people drag a
real tree into their house and decorate it. Some people buy live trees
that are balled in burlap instead of a cut tree. A live tree is a
great idea, but many people make serious mistakes when it comes to
handling a live tree, and they end up losing their money. The
information in this article also pertains to any live tree you are
planting, be it now during the winter, or during the summer.
1. Before you even take the tree in the house, dig a hole for the tree
where you expect to plant it after the holidays. Put the soil in a
wheelbarrow and park it in the garage. You'll need loose soil to back
fill the hole, and the ground might be frozen after the holidays.
2. Keep your live tree in the house for as short a time as is
3. Keep the ball plenty moist while in the house, but not in a tub
full of water. You don't want the ball to dry out completely, but by
the same token it shouldn't be soggy all the time either. Just moist.
You can wet it thoroughly, but then don't water again until the water
is almost gone.
4. After Christmas move the tree outdoors as soon as possible and
plant it immediately. If you were not able to dig the hole earlier,
the ground is frozen, and the tree can not be planted, leave it
outside and pack bags of leaves or bales of straw around the ball.
Find a way to heal it in in such a way that the amount of sun and wind
the root ball receives is minimal.
5. Try and plant the tree immediately if you can. You do not want to
store the tree on top of the ground during the winter if you can avoid
it. Putting in your garage is not a good idea either, it is likely to
dry out in there. The absolute best place for the ball is in the
ground, even if the ground has frozen after you dug the hole. Just set
the tree in the hole and back fill with loose soil. Make sure there
are no air pockets around the ball. Back fill only with small
particles of soil. If this can not be done because the soil is frozen,
just set the tree in the hole and back fill as soon as the weather
6. Check the ball for nylon string. Cut and remove any nylon string.
Sometimes the diggers wrap the string around the stem of the tree. If
the string is a cotton type, like sisal twine you can leave it on the
ball but remove it from the stem. If the burlap is nylon it should be
cut in many places or removed. If the ball is wrapped with a wire
basket I recommend leaving it on. It will help to secure the tree and
keep it from rocking back and forth with the wind. The roots will find
their way through the wire and the burlap. Just cut the burlap where
7. Do not plant the tree too deep. This is the number one reason for
plants that do not survive. They should not be planted any deeper than
they were in the nursery. The top of the ball should be one to two
inches above the ground level. If you have heavy, wet, clay soil, you
should plant it even higher and build a bed up around the ball. When
you plant them too deep the plants literally suffocate.
8. Do not fertilize the tree at the time of planting. You can
fertilize it in the spring, but only with an organic fertilizer. If
you have compost available, mix some in while planting. Fertilizer can
do more harm than it can good. I always recommend organic fertilizers.
It's hard to make a mistake with organics. It's always a good idea to
stake trees when you plant them. If the wind is constantly rocking
them back and forth they will have a difficult time establishing new
roots in their new home.
Michael J. McGroarty is the author of this article. Visit his most
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