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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 April 7

The warm wave coming this week will shift weeds into overdrive. Get to work!

* Weed, weed, weed! Whack them before they flower.

* Mulch around plants to conserve moisture and control weeds.

* Smell orange blossoms? Feed citrus trees with a low dose of balanced fertilizer (such as 10-10-10) during bloom to help set fruit. Keep an eye out for ants.

* Apply slow-release fertilizer to the lawn.

* Thoroughly clean debris from the bottom of outdoor ponds or fountains.

* Spring brings a flush of rapid growth, and that means your garden is really hungry. Feed shrubs and trees with a slow-release fertilizer. Or mulch with a 1-inch layer of compost.

* Azaleas and camellias looking a little yellow? If leaves are turning yellow between the veins, give them a boost with chelated iron.

* Trim dead flowers but not leaves from spring-flowering bulbs such as daffodils and tulips. Those leaves gather energy to create next year's flowers. Also, give the bulbs a fertilizer boost after bloom.

* Pinch chrysanthemums back to 12 inches for fall flowers. Cut old stems to the ground.

* From seed, plant beans, beets, cantaloupes, carrots, corn, cucumbers, melons, radishes and squash. Plant onion sets.

* In the flower garden, plant seeds for asters, cosmos, celosia, marigolds, salvia, sunflowers and zinnias. Transplant petunias, zinnias, geraniums and other summer bloomers.

* Plant perennials and dahlia tubers for summer bloom. April is about the last chance to plant summer bulbs, such as gladiolus and tuberous begonias.

* Transplant lettuce and cabbage seedlings.

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