Caring for a live Christmas tree |

Caring for a live Christmas tree

by JoAnne Skelly

Caring for a living Christmas tree will keep it healthy not only through the holiday season, but also after Christmas when you plant it in your landscape.

Check the root ball daily. Water it when the top 2 inches to 3 inches of soil feels dry. Be sure to have a plastic saucer under the tree to catch any excess water and to prevent damage to the floor. Set the container on rocks or another upside down saucer to prevent the plant from sitting in water.

Be aware that live trees can break dormancy if you keep them in the house for more than seven to 10 days. If a tree breaks dormancy, it will lose its ability to withstand freezing temperatures, and the buds may die when you take it outdoors. Trees with dead buds are unlikely to survive.

If you have kept a living tree in the house longer than seven to 10 days and wonder what to do with it after Christmas, keep it out of freezing temperatures in a location where it will get sunlight. Water it until you are able to plant it outside after the weather has warmed up. You may be able to send a tree back into dormancy to allow earlier outdoor planting by gradually exposing it to colder and colder temperatures over a period of weeks.

It is ideal to plant a live tree that is still dormant immediately after the Christmas festivities and to dig the hole before the ground freezes. However, if you did not dig the hole in advance, a couple of warm days or a few buckets of hot water will allow you to dig a planting hole in the days following Christmas. With the unseasonably warm temperatures we are having right now, frozen ground probably won’t pose a problem this year.

Alternatively, you can baby the tree in its container until you can plant it. However, plants in containers freeze, thaw, and reheat more easily than plants in the ground. This process is very stressful to a plant because it can damage the root ball, compromising the plant’s ability to absorb water. Try packing snow over and around the container and keeping it in a shady location to reduce the freeze, thaw, and reheat cycle. Another protection method is to build a wire cage around the container and fill it with mulch, leaves, straw, or soil to insulate the plant’s roots. Keep the soil moist until planting, but avoid letting the tree stand in water.

For more gardening information, contact me, 887-2252 or, or your local University of Nevada Cooperative Extension office. Check out many useful horticulture publications at “Ask a Master Gardener” by e-mailing

n JoAnne Skelly is the Carson City / Storey County Extension Educator for University of Nevada Cooperative Extension.