Yard and Garden: Evergreen Trees

November 18, 2015, 1:26 pm | Richard Jauron, Kendall Evans

AMES, Iowa – With the holiday season approaching fast, many families choose to use evergreen trees to make their homes more festive. Evergreens are popularly used as Christmas trees in many people’s homes. However, they have purpose beyond the holiday season. After Christmas, instead of throwing the evergreen tree away, plant it instead.

Here are some tips from Iowa State University Extension and Outreach horticulturists on how to replant evergreens during the winter months. 

Can I purchase an evergreen tree, use it as a Christmas tree indoors, and then plant it outside? 

Iowa’s harsh, winter weather, which includes extreme cold, rapid temperature changes and strong winds, makes it difficult to successfully plant an evergreen in winter. Successful efforts require proper site preparation in fall and good tree care. 

Winter SceneThe planting site for the evergreen should be selected and prepared in fall. The site should provide adequate space for the tree to grow and develop. After selecting the site, dig the hole for the tree and place the soil in a location where it will not freeze. Fill the hole with straw and cover with a tarp.

Select a small, container-grown or balled and burlapped tree from a local nursery or garden center. A small tree has a much better chance of survival when planted outdoors. A small tree is also less expensive and easier to handle. Store the tree in a cool garage, shed, or porch if it is purchased two to three weeks before Christmas. Make sure the soil is kept moist, but does not freeze. 

Place the tree in a tub or large saucer when brought indoors to prevent damage to carpets or hardwood floors. Set the tree in a cool location within the home. Avoid sites near heat sources, such as a fireplace or register. Carefully decorate the tree with ornaments, garland, and lights. Don’t apply flocking or artificial snow to the tree. Keep the soil moist throughout the tree’s stay indoors. Check the soil daily and water as needed. 

The tree should be kept indoors for only a short period. The shorter the tree’s stay indoors, the better its chances of survival when planted outdoors. The maximum stay indoors should be seven to 10 days. If the tree is kept indoors for a longer period, the tree’s buds may break dormancy. When planted outdoors, the succulent new growth will be destroyed by cold temperatures. 

Shortly after Christmas, remove the tree from the house and place it in a cool location. Don’t place the tree directly outdoors. The much colder temperatures outdoors may injure the tree. A short stay in a cool garage or porch allows the tree to become gradually acclimated to cooler temperatures. The soil should not be allowed to freeze during this period. On a mild winter day, remove the straw from the planting hole and plant the tree outdoors. Water well and mulch the area heavily to prevent the soil from immediately freezing. 

Which evergreen trees perform well in home landscapes in Iowa? 

Only a small number of evergreen trees perform well in Iowa. Some evergreens, such as Scotch pine and Austrian pine, have serious disease problems and are no longer recommended for planting in Iowa. The most reliable evergreens for Iowa are white pine, concolor (white) fir, Norway spruce, Black Hills spruce, and Colorado spruce.

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