The practice of buying and using a living tree as a Christmas tree and then planting it outdoors appears to be increasing. Specialists believe it is not a good idea in most cases.
In support of it are the arguments that it saves some money and promotes conservation; against it is the unlikelihood that it will survive after being moved indoors for a week or 10 days.
Planting such an evergreen tree at the proper time and keeping it growing in good health is a job that calls for a favorable environment and the best of treatment.
Many of the roots were left behind when the tree was dug and it needs to develop new roots as soon as possible. Spring is the preferred time for planting because it is the beginning of a new growth period.
Even with the best of treatment, it often takes two or three years or longer for a newly planted tree to become well established in the new location. With all the problems involved in taking the tree indoors for a period of time in early winter, the chances are that it will take a long time for it to recover and start growing again even if it survives.
If the tree is growing in a container, it probably will be less of a risk than if it is B&B (ball and burlap) but it is still not a good idea.
Don't take the tree indoors until the last minute. Keep it in the heated house for only a few days, four or five at the most. If it stays indoors too long, it may lose its resistance to freezing temperatures.
It is a good idea to adjust the tree gradually to the change in temperature when taking it indoors and again when returning it outdoors.
A hole for planting the tree outdoors can be prepared well in advance. If weather conditions permit planting, it will be necessary to shelter the tree from wind and sun to reduce moisture loss from the foliage.
If the ground is frozen and the tree cannot be planted at that time, it will need to be stored some place where it gets adequate light (for food production) and temperatures range from 35 to 42 degrees. In temperate and frigid zones, the buds of most trees and shrubs cannot break dormancy naturally and resume growth until they have experienced a number of hours (specific for each kind) of low temperatures, 42 degrees or lower.
This is called their chill requirement. It is why you cannot grow many kinds of northern woody plants in the Deep South, or in a heated house during the winter.
The soil ball should not be allowed to dry out at any time. It could reduce the ability of the tree to survive adversity.
Two things can be done at this time of the year to lessen the danger of winter injury to azaleas, rhododendrons and camellias. One is to prevent alternate freezing and thawing of the soil (heaving) by mulching, and the other is to protect the top growth from desiccation (drying out) by providing shelter from winds and the sun.
The mulch insulates the soil and prevents the ground from freezing deeply. Newly planted evergreens, normally hardy, are particularly vulnerable because they have not had time to establish a good root system in the new location.
Materials for winter mulching are the same as those you use during the summer. They include bark, sawdust, wood chips, straw, chopped leaves and compost.
Mulches may be applied to a depth of two to four inches. Do not mound them up around the stems of plants. An inch is enough to apply close to stems. Straw and chopped leaves may be a little thicker since both settle and pack to some extent during the winter.
Oak, sycamore and beech leaves are excellent for mulching if you can keep them from blowing away. They do not mat down and become soggy when it rains.
Mulching is particularly beneficial for fall planted trees and shrubs. Most mulching materials are poor conductors of heat and they keep the soil warm later in the season, permitting new root growth.But in the spring the mulch should be removed early because it will keep the soil from warming up, delaying the start of root growth.
In general, dark-colored surfaces absorb more of the sun's heat than do light-colored ones. Glass, wood and tree leaves are poor conductors of heat.
Moisture loss during winter may be responsible for severe damage or death to plants. The loss becomes heavy when high winds or temporary warm weather causes a plant to give off more moisture than usual. This coupled with frozen ground which prevents roots from taking up moisture causes browning or burning often seen on evergreens in late February and March.
Burlap or lath screens may be used to protect evergreen plants such as azaleas from high winds and bright sunshine. Drive stakes into the ground to windward and tie burlap to them. Four stakes with burlap will shade the plant.
Landscape planning and planting also can help minimize winter injury. Azaleas, rhododendrons and camellias which are known to be damaged easily can be planted on the north, northeast or eastern side of a building where they will be sheltered from prevailing winds and winter sun.