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How to keep a living Christmas tree alive

Indoor environment can cause rapid decline

evergreen tree
Keep a living evergreen tree in good shape indoors by making sure it gets enough light and water. (Photo: Kathy Morrison)

Have you ever put a “living” Christmas tree in your living room, only to have it die almost overnight?

Such are the trials of bringing an outdoor plant indoors during the holidays.

Compared to a fresh-cut green tree, a living Christmas tree still has its roots attached, usually jammed into a too-small pot for its size. The idea is that this tree can then be planted outdoors after its service as holiday decoration. Or it can stay in a pot for a return appearance indoors each December.

Whether strung with tinsel and lights or standing bare, it’s still a living tree and needs what any living tree needs: Water and light.

A 6-foot tree can easily drink a gallon of water each day. Evergreens also need several hours of sunlight each day to keep those needles green.

A lack of water or light will cause the tree to suffer, drop needles and suddenly brown.

Another obstacle: Heat. People like indoor living conditions warmer than what the tree likely has been used to outdoors. A sudden change of temperature can cause needle drop, too.

The solution? Keep the tree outside in a sunny but sheltered location until Christmas week. This reduces stress on the young tree as much as possible.

Indoors, keep the tree away from any furnace vents, stoves, fireplaces or other heat sources. Position it near a window where it can get as much light as possible. Check its soil moisture daily.

Once the celebration is over, get the tree undressed and back outside.

As for planting, choose a sunny location with at least six hours of sunlight each day. In Sacramento, young evergreens prefer a little afternoon shade. Evergreens can be transplanted in January.

Want to keep it in a pot? Get a larger pot. Most living Christmas trees are sold in undersized pots (often 5 gallon or smaller) for convenience and ease of transport. To survive until next December, that tree likely needs a bigger container to give its roots some room.


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Dig In: Garden Checklist

For week of June 4:

Because of the comfortable weather, it’s not too late to set out tomato and pepper seedlings as well as squash and melon plants. They’ll appreciate this not-too-hot weather. Just remember to water.

* From seed, plant corn, pumpkins, radishes, melons, squash and sunflowers.

* Plant basil to go with your tomatoes.

* Transplant summer annuals such as petunias, marigolds and zinnias.

* It’s also a good time to transplant perennial flowers including astilbe, columbine, coneflowers, coreopsis, dahlias, rudbeckia, salvia and verbena.

* Let the grass grow longer. Set the mower blades high to reduce stress on your lawn during summer heat. To cut down on evaporation, water your lawn deeply during the wee hours of the morning, between 2 and 8 a.m.

* Tie up vines and stake tall plants such as gladiolus and lilies. That gives their heavy flowers some support.

* Dig and divide crowded bulbs after the tops have died down.

* Feed summer flowers with a slow-release fertilizer.

* Mulch, mulch, mulch! This “blanket” keeps moisture in the soil longer and helps your plants cope during hot weather.

* Thin grapes on the vine for bigger, better clusters later this summer.

* Cut back fruit-bearing canes on berries.

* Feed camellias, azaleas and other acid-loving plants.

* Trim off dead flowers from rose bushes to keep them blooming through the summer. Roses also benefit from deep watering and feeding now. A top dressing of aged compost will keep them happy. It feeds as well as keeps roots moist.

* Pinch back chrysanthemums for bushier plants with many more flowers in September.

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