December 6, 2010

Ask ISU Extension Garden Experts About: Evergreens

By Richard Jauron
Iowa State University Extension Scott County

Is it possible to purchase a small evergreen, use it as an indoor Christmas tree and then plant it outdoors?

Iowa’s harsh winter weather (extreme cold, rapid temperature changes and strong winds) makes it difficult to successfully plant an evergreen in winter. Successful efforts require proper site preparation in fall and good tree care. The planting site for the evergreen should be selected and prepared in fall. The site should provide adequate space for the tree to grow and develop. After selecting the site, dig the hole for the tree and place the soil in a location where it will not freeze. Fill the hole with straw.

Select a small, container-grown or balled and burlapped tree from a local nursery or garden center. A small tree has a much better chance of survival when planted outdoors. A small tree is also less expensive and easier to handle. Store the tree in a cool garage, shed or porch if it is purchased two or three weeks before Christmas. Make sure the soil is kept moist, but does not freeze.

Place the tree in a tub or large saucer when brought indoors to prevent damage to carpets or hardwood floors. Set the tree in a cool location within the home. Avoid sites near heat sources, such as a fireplace or register. Carefully decorate the tree with ornaments, garland and lights (preferably the miniature types). Don’t apply flocking or artificial snow to the tree. Keep the soil moist throughout the tree’s stay indoors. Check the soil daily and water as needed.

The tree should be kept indoors for only a short period. The shorter the tree’s stay indoors, the better its chances of survival when planted outdoors. The maximum stay indoors should be seven to 10 days. If the tree is kept indoors for a longer period, the tree’s buds may break dormancy. When planted outdoors, the succulent new growth will be killed by cold temperatures.

Shortly after Christmas, remove the tree from the house and place it in a cool location. Don’t place the tree directly
outdoors. The much colder temperatures outdoors may injure the tree. A short stay (several days) in a cool garage or porch allows the tree to become gradually acclimated to cooler temperatures. The soil should not be allowed to freeze during this period. On a mild winter day, remove the straw from the planting area and plant the tree outdoors. Water well and mulch the area heavily to prevent the soil from freezing immediately.