In the darkest days of winter, the cheerful touches of holly and ivy and other greenery remind us that brighter days are coming. Just as the ancient Druids turned to these symbols of life and renewal, we celebrate our holidays today with glowing Christmas trees and evergreens.
The celebration of a Christmas tree originated in Northern Europe. The custom was developed in present-day Estonia and Latvia, and in early modern Germany, where Protestant Germans brought decorated trees into their homes. Queen Victoria is credited with bringing the Christmas tree into even more popularity. Even so, the Catholic Church long resisted this Protestant custom, and it wasn’t until 1982 that a Christmas tree stood for the first time in the Vatican.
Decorations early on were roses fashioned from colored paper, apples, wafers, tinsel, and sweetmeats. In the 18th century, the Christmas tree began to be illuminated by candles, which were ultimately replaced by Christmas lights after the advent of electrification. An angel or star is often placed at the top of the tree to represent the Angel Gabriel or the Star of Bethlehem. Edible items such as gingerbread, chocolate, and other sweets are also popular and are tied to or hung from the tree’s branches with ribbons.
Christmas trees in the Western Christmas tradition are variously erected on days such as the first day of Advent or even as late as Christmas Eve, depending on the customs of the country. Often Christmas trees are removed from the house on the Twelfth Night or Candlemas, the latter of which ends the Christmas-Epiphany season in some denominations.
Druids believed that holly’s evergreen nature made it sacred and that it remained green throughout winter to keep the earth beautiful at a time when deciduous trees shed their leaves. The red berries that festoon holly in the winter months long ago set the tone for a green and red holiday color theme. Both Christmas trees and holly remain popular and traditional holiday decorations.
Christmas trees are simply magical, say the experts from The Davey Tree Expert Company. Every holiday, we fall in love with the glow of their twinkle lights and the charm and fragrance of the big, beautiful tree indoors. But where does that magic go after the holidays are over? Recycling your tree and turning it into mulch or using the boughs to shelter tender perennials are great ways to help your tree’s spirit live on. Or you can go a step further and plant a Christmas tree if it has a root ball! It is a good idea to decide where you will plant your living tree before you buy it.
When using a living Christmas tree (or holly bush), there will be some accommodations necessary to keep them alive and healthy. Because any tree or holly bush will have been outside before you bring it home, you will need to acclimate it to indoor temperatures gradually to avoid shocking it and forcing it into an unnatural and unwanted growth spurt. Doing that would condemn it once you return it to the outdoors, where it would have to endure freezing or sub-freezing temperatures.
Locating a living tree or shrub in a garage or covered area for a week or so is a first step to ease it into the warmth of your home. Once indoors a living tree or holly bush should not be kept indoors for more than a few days, also to avoid forcing it out of hibernation. While indoors, it should be situated where it can receive the optimum of sunlight possible. And then again after returning either tree or shrub outdoors, repeat the acclimation process by conditioning it in a garage or covered area for a few days or a week.
To plant your Christmas tree with a root ball, it’s got to be fresh. You should only keep it inside for seven to 10 days! Otherwise, your tree will begin thinking it’s spring and start growing. Then, when you move it outside, it will have trouble surviving the cold weather.
Before you can plant your Christmas tree, move it to a sheltered, unheated space, like the garage. If you live in an area where the ground is not frozen, keep your tree here for seven days to help it readjust to cooler temperatures. Or if your ground is frozen, your tree will have to camp out here until the ground thaws and you can dig a hole. Until then, continue to water your tree. It’s super important to keep the root ball wet, not sopping, the entire time.
Here are step-by-step instructions on how to plant your Christmas tree outside in the garden and enjoy its majesty for years to come:
How to Plant a Potted Tree, Tree Seeding, or Tree Wrapped in Burlap
Before you begin, read these tree planting tips:
Plant your new tree as soon as you can to set your tree up for its best chance of survival. Otherwise, place it in a cool, dark place that’s away from wind and direct sunlight, and keep the soil damp.
Before you begin digging, contact your utility or gas company to make sure there are no pipes or wires there. In many states, this step is required by law.
Pay extra-close attention when positioning the tree depth around the root flare. Planting the root flare too deep is the biggest tree planting mistake! Sometimes, you may have to partially remove the soil from the top of the container or root ball to even find the flare.
Plant a Tree Wrapped in Burlap
To move your tree, roll it or hold it by the root ball—never the trunk or branches. Dig a saucer-shaped hole as deep as the root ball and at least twice as wide.
Position the tree, so the area where the roots meet the trunk is at or slightly above the ground. That’s called the root flare. The biggest mistake people make when planting a new tree is planting it too deep. Also, make sure the ground beneath the root ball is solid beneath the root ball so that the tree doesn’t settle lower because of its own weight.
Cut the twine and remove the burlap around the base of the trunk and the top of the root ball. It’s hard to tell the difference between synthetic and organic, and sometimes even organic burlap doesn’t decompose properly.
Then, if there’s a wire cage, remove at least the upper third of it.
Hold the tree upright and refill the hole with the soil you just removed. If the soil is lumpy, break it up a little before placing back in the hole. Then, pack it down to get rid of any air pockets. Add water as you backfill. Add two to three inches of organic mulch to the edge of the tree’s canopy. Then, water again.
If the tree has a small root ball and seems to be top-heavy, stake it to provide enough support. Remove the stake after a year.
Plant a Potted Tree in the Ground
An hour before planting, water the tree to reduce transplant shock and make it easier to remove from the container.
When moving the tree, grab and hold by the container—never the trunk or branches.
Dig a saucer-shaped hole as deep as the container and two to three-times as wide.
To remove the tree from its planter, place it on its side. Because you just watered it, the tree should easily slide out when you tap the bottom of the container. If needed, tilt. Just be sure to support the trunk!
Cut off any roots that are squishy or dead. If the roots look tangled, make several vertical cuts in the sides of the root ball and an X-shape cut in the bottom to loosen the roots. Straighten any roots that are circling the margins of the container as best you can. If the roots are much larger than when you first measured, see if you need to make the planting hole bigger.
Position your tree, so the area where the roots meet the trunk is at or slightly above the ground. That’s called the root flare. Hold the tree upright and refill the hole with the soil you just removed. Pack the soil to get rid of any air pockets.
Add two to three inches of organic mulch, and water. Any newly planted trees should be watered when rainfall is not sufficient. Continuing regular watering until the ground is frozen.
Decking those halls for the holidays always includes plenty of greenery, and there’s nothing like being able to enjoy the Christmas tree or holly bushes for years to come when you decorate with living specimens.