With the landscape buttoned down for the year, one would think that deadlines would be a thing of the past. Not so. Deadlines seem to be worse now for many people than at any time of the past year. Some folks are only now starting to shop for Christmas, others haven't even taken out the boxes of holiday decorations. You have lots of company this weekend as most people have fallen behind their holiday schedules.
For the moment, the priority is the Christmas tree. Some families have already gone to the rural tree farm and cut an evergreen while others soon will shop for a cut tree. No matter which direction you take, you may want to consider some of the following ideas:
If you decorate a cut Christmas tree in your home or apartment, shop right away. Not only is the selection good, but chances are you'll wind up with a truly fresh tree. Fir trees (balsam, Fraser and Douglas) are the best choice because they absorb water freely, making them safe indoors. If you buy a Douglas fir, make certain it was grown in the mid-Atlantic region, otherwise it will likely drop its needles a few days after being moved into the house. Oregon and Washington state Douglas firs are vulnerable. Don't buy them.
Pine (Eastern white and Scots) trees are second choices for cut trees, followed by the spruce, which absorbs fluid poorly. Despite its beauty, blue spruce makes a poor choice for a cut tree.
No matter where you shop, look over the selection, then narrow your choice to one or two trees. Check the first tree. Go to a poor side of the tree near the top, find a short branch and try to snap it between your fingers. If it breaks, cast that tree aside.
Check a second tree. If a short branch on the bad side near the top doesn't snap, break it anyway, then check the color of the branch stem in your hand. At this time of year, it should be white, indicating a healthy tree. Dead cells will show a tan or beige stem color, meaning the branch is dead and probably much of the tree as well.
Then buy your supplies: a pint container of clear Karo syrup, a small container of borax and kitchen cider vinegar.
After getting the tree home, use a a sharp saw to make a level cut through the tree trunk an inch above the base to exposes fresh tissue to the homemade preservative.
To make the preservative, add two gallons of hot water to a five-gallon bucket, then a pint of clear Karo syrup, four ounces of chlorine bleach, two ounces of cider vinegar and a half-teaspoon of borax. Stir the ingredients, then add two ounces of liquid Woolite or Joy dishwashing detergent. To avoid soap suds, do not stir the Woolite or Joy into the solution. With the container stored in the garage or a protected place outdoors, stand the tree trunk in the solution. Ideally, the tree should stand in the solution for five days before moving indoors.
As for the tree stand, heavy-duty stands have come on the market in recent years, so if you have a flimsy tree stand from years past, this is the time to buy a new one. Heavy-duty stands hold a gallon of solution and more.
When you move the tree indoors, decorate it, then fill the reservoir of the tree stand with fluid from the bucket. A healthy tree displayed indoors for 10 days or more will absorb almost three gallons of solution, so be prepared to eventually mix a new batch.
Homeowners who have been considering a live balled-and-burlapped evergreen for Christmas should decide now, then proceed with the preparatory work.
First, if you have your heart set on displaying the tree indoors, please change your mind. There are far better things to do. Consider buying a cut tree for the house and letting things go at that.
Get the garden shop or nursery on the phone today and ask that they deliver the tree as soon as possible. Before they arrive, find a large tub and an old rubber to support the tree in the tub.
Before the delivery, choose the best location for the evergreen (full sun, well-drained soil, no interference from the house or garage, lots of clearance from the street and the neighbor's property line). If you neglected to obtain a copy of planting instructions, do so now, then dig the hole according to the instructions.
Now two questions: what are your options and which is the best?
Your best decision is to plant the tree immediately after delivery. If you plant according to printed instructions and wet the soil daily with two gallons of water for two weeks, the tree's survival is assured.
Keep the tree outdoors, planting whenever the spirit moves you after Christmas. In this case, the tree is placed atop the rubber tire in the large tub. Every day the tree is out of the ground, apply a quart or two of lukewarm water over the top of the root ball, pouring slowly so the water is absorbed by the roots and doesn't flow to the base of the tub.
The worst option is displaying the tree indoors because it is also the most problematic as far as tree survival is concerned. At best, the tree should stay indoors no more than six days, after which is is moved to temporary quarters in a garage before January planting.
If a blizzard negates January planting, the tree remains garaged over the winter, being watered every five or six days up to mid- or late March when it is planted in the landscape.
If you insist on displaying the tree indoors, follow these tips:
Have the tree delivered today if possible. When it arrives, move it immediately to the rubber tire-and-tub in the garage. Wet the root ball every day without fail with a quart or two of lukewarm water, also spraying the needles thoroughly. As for displaying the tree in the house, choose the location carefully: Use the coolest room possible, with no heat registers or radiators nearby. Move the tree indoors Dec. 23. Wet the root ball daily, but do not spray needles while the tree is indoors.
On Dec. 29, remove all decorations and lights. Two people can carry the tree back into the garage; get the tub and rubber tire from the house, installing the tree atop the assembly in the garage.
Wet the root ball daily, also resuming daily misting of the needles. Weather permitting, plant the tree the second week of January; otherwise the tree should remain in the garage for the winter, with the root ball moistened every five days up to planting next March. Jack Eden is the host of "Over the Garden Fence" Sundays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on WTOP Radio (1500 AM).