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Nurturing Living Trees Adds a Growing Tradition


Sure, a living Christmas tree is environmentally friendly and it smells good, but one of its greatest benefits is that it can be recycled year after year.

"Keep a tree happy, and you can use it indoors for several Christmases," said Chris Greenwood, horticulturist for Armstrong Garden Centers.

He and Ted Mayeda, owner of M & M Nursery in Orange, offer these tips for ensuring your tree's health and longevity:

* Time indoors: The most common cause of failure is keeping the tree in the house too long, Greenwood said. He suggests leaving it indoors no more than five to seven days; 10 days maximum.

* Placement: Where you put your tree indoors will have a direct bearing on how well it fares.

"Place it in a bright location, preferably within 5 to 8 feet of an east-, south- or west-facing window that has no outdoor obstructions," Mayeda said.

It's also important to keep your tree away from forced-air heating vents, because this will quickly dry it out.

"If possible, turn off the forced air in the room where the tree is located," Greenwood said.

To avoid drying out and damaging the tree, spray it with an anti-transpirant such as Cloudcover, which will help to prevent water loss through the needles.

* Indoor watering: Avoid overwatering the tree while indoors. In general, keep the tree evenly moist, but not soggy. Greenwood suggests watering by sprinkling ice cubes on the soil surface, which will melt and slowly seep to the root ball.

Always keep a saucer under the plant in case of moisture leakage, and never let the pot sit in water, as this will quickly lead to root rot. Remove excess water with a turkey baster.

* Lights: If you put lights on your tree, use mini-lights, which don't emit enough heat to damage needles. Wire them so they don't rest directly on the needles.

Never flock a living Christmas tree.

* After-holiday care: Once the festivities end, move the tree outdoors to a full-sun location as soon as possible.

If you'll be keeping the tree in a container, transplant it to a bigger pot before spring. Pot the tree in at least the next pot size, which will give the plant room to grow.

Use a high quality, well-draining potting soil. Feed the tree throughout the spring and summer with a low nitrogen, water-soluble fertilizer. Don't overfeed, as this will lead to fast growth that will quickly create an unwieldy tree.

"Once a living Christmas tree becomes too heavy and unwieldy for you, it makes a great landscape addition or it can be donated to a public park or school," Greenwood said.

Keep the tree clean by washing the foliage down throughout the year and hosing off any dead needles, which tend to accumulate at the trunk.

Prune the tree in June to maintain its shape. You also can do more shaping in fall, which will encourage one final flush of growth so the tree has lush foliage when you bring it in the house for the holidays.

Keep containerized trees well watered, especially during the hot days of summer.

* In-ground planting: If you want the tree to be a part of the landscape, keep in mind that many pine trees grow very large. Find a sunny spot with plenty of room.

* Armstrong Garden Centers are throughout Orange County. Call (800) 557-5268 or visit

* M & M Nursery, in Orange, (714) 538-8042 or

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