Caring for a Live, Balled in Burlap Christmas Tree
By Mike McGroarty
'Tis the season when lots of people drag a real tree
into their house and decorate it. Some people buy
live trees that are balled in burlap instead of a cut tree.
A live tree is a great idea, but many people make
serious mistakes when it comes to handling a live tree,
and they end up losing their money. The information in
this article also pertains to any live tree you are planting,
be it now during the winter, or during the summer.
1. Before you even take the tree in the house, dig a
hole for the tree where you expect to plant it after the
holidays. Put the soil in a wheelbarrow and park it in
the garage. You'll need loose soil to back fill the hole,
and the ground might be frozen after the holidays.
2. Keep your live tree in the house for as short a time
as is possible.
3. Keep the ball plenty moist while in the house, but
not in a tub full of water. You don't want the ball to dry
out completely, but by the same token it shouldn't be
soggy all the time either. Just moist. You can wet it
thoroughly, but then don't water again until the water is
4. After Christmas move the tree outdoors as soon as
possible and plant it immediately. If you were not able
to dig the hole earlier, the ground is frozen, and the tree
can not be planted, leave it outside and pack bags of
leaves or bales of straw around the ball. Find a way to
heal it in in such a way that the amount of sun and wind
the root ball receives is minimal.
5. Try and plant the tree immediately if you can. You do
not want to store the tree on top of the ground during the
winter if you can avoid it. Putting in your garage is not a
good idea either, it is likely to dry out in there. The absolute
best place for the ball is in the ground, even if the ground
has frozen after you dug the hole. Just set the tree in the
hole and back fill with loose soil. Make sure there are no
air pockets around the ball. Back fill only with small particles
of soil. If this can not be done because the soil is frozen,
just set the tree in the hole and back fill as soon as the
6. Check the ball for nylon string. Cut and remove any
nylon string. Sometimes the diggers wrap the string
around the stem of the tree. If the string is a cotton type,
like sisal twine you can leave it on the ball but remove it
from the stem. If the burlap is nylon it should be cut in
many places or removed. If the ball is wrapped with a wire
basket I recommend leaving it on. It will help to secure the
tree and keep it from rocking back and forth with the wind.
The roots will find their way through the wire and the burlap.
Just cut the burlap where you can.
7. Do not plant the tree too deep. This is the number one
reason for plants that do not survive. They should not be
planted any deeper than they were in the nursery. The
top of the ball should be one to two inches above the
ground level. If you have heavy, wet, clay soil, you should
plant it even higher and build a bed up around the ball.
When you plant them too deep the plants literally suffocate.
8. Do not fertilize the tree at the time of planting. You can
fertilize it in the spring, but only with an organic fertilizer.
If you have compost available, mix some in while planting.
Fertilizer can do more harm than it can good. I always
recommend organic fertilizers. It's hard to make a mistake
with organics. It's always a good idea to stake trees when
you plant them. If the wind is constantly rocking them back
and forth they will have a difficult time establishing new roots
in their new home.
Michael J. McGroarty is the author of this article. Visit his most
http://www.freeplants.com and sign up for his
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