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Using Christmas trees for landscape

Christmas trees come in all shapes and sizes. Some are harvested and used for just one season, while others are purchased with a longer time frame in mind. No matter which tree you choose for this season, it is sure to add to everyone's holiday spirit.

To keep that spirit alive year round, or to just add to the landscape, purchasing a live ball-and-burlap tree is a good option. Many Oklahoma tree growers offer the ball-and-burlap method of sales, but many do not, so check that out before visiting a farm.

"Some people buy a potted or balled Christmas tree with roots intact in the hope of having a new landscape tree come spring," said David Hillock, Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension consumer horticulture specialist. "This is very difficult to do successfully, but your chances of success increase if the tree is treated right."

First and foremost, keep in mind which species of tree is best suited to survive Oklahoma's weather.

"Be careful what species you choose, because Virginia pine doesn't make a nice yard tree," said Chuck Tauer, retired forest genetics professor in the Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources atOSU. "It requires way too much care."

Tauer suggested there are other species that might be a better selection in Oklahoma. White pine and Arizona cypress are two such species, but there are others.

Once a healthy tree is purchased from a local grower and brought home, it should be kept in a shaded area or non-heated garage you are ready to bring it inside. However, some individuals choose to leave the tree outside for the season.

"Some people like to leave them outside and just decorate them on their porch (for Christmas)," said Craig McKinley, OSU Extension forestry specialist. "Water the trees and take a little bit more caution because you have a big load of soil there."

An adequate water supply is vital to keeping a live tree. The ball should be soaked all the way through, without too much runoff. While in the house, the root ball should be wrapped in plastic or placed in a tub or bucket to prevent water from leaking onto the floor.

"The roots that actually take up most of the moisture are toward the top of the soil and the outside of the ball," said McKinley. "The bigger roots in the middle are more for stability. Water should be evenly distributed around the ball." Ball-and-burlap trees should not be kept in the house for more than 10 days.

No matter the species selected, there are some guidelines that should be followed when planting the tree to increase its chance of survival.

Planning ahead by digging the hole when the soil is not frozen and covering the area with a tarp and mulch will allow planting as soon as you are ready to move the tree outdoors.

"You can plant it immediately after Christmas if you want," McKinley said. "If you're going to have a really hard freeze in the next day or two, just delay planting."

The top of the root ball should be at or slightly above soil grade, and the bag should not be removed until the tree is in place. Once the tree is where you want it, cover the area with mulch to prevent the roots from freezing.

Recently planted trees should not be allowed to dry completely as water is essential for early stability. "You probably ought to give a tree, even in the driest part of the year, 2 inches of water every two weeks," McKinley said. "Trees do better if they go through a dry and wet cycle."

While the ball-and-burlap or pot method is a little more work than a choose-and-cut tree, the Christmas memories come back every time you look at the tree, and your property value may increase because of your efforts.

Date: 12/10/2012

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