Living trees that please
This month, many people try to decide whether to pick an artificial Christmas tree, a cut tree or a living tree. If you choose the latter, keep these tips in mind.
To improve its chances of survival in the landscape, select a species of tree that is adapted to your area. The N.C. Cooperative Extension offers this advice:
- Fraser fir is recommended only for elevations above 4,500 feet.
- Best white pine growth in North Carolina takes place in areas of 1,200 to 3,000 feet in elevation on cooler, north-facing slopes, in coves, and along stream bottoms. White pine has a limited life expectancy if planted in the lower Piedmont and coastal plain, especially in clay soils.
- Leyland cypress, Virginia pine and eastern red cedar are all suitable for the Piedmont and coastal plain. They are adapted to a wide variety of sites and tolerate warmer climates. However, they require more pruning than the "mountain" species to retain their Christmas tree appearance.
For information about other species, visit www.ces.ncsu.edu/nreos/forest/xmas/ctn_028.html.
When choosing a planting site, learn your tree's mature height to be sure it will have plenty of room to grow. Use Christmas trees in hedges or as specimen plants away from the house.
Living trees are usually sold balled and burlapped. Do not let the root ball dry out, whether indoors or outdoors. To ensure adequate moisture retention, place the tree in a tub. Keep the roots evenly moist but not saturated. Display the tree away from heating ducts or heaters, ideally in a room with a temperature of 70? F or cooler. It's a good idea to use a commercially formulated anti-desiccant or anti-transpirant to protect needles and reduce stress. Try to keep the tree indoors for no more than one week.
Before planting the tree, give it a few days to acclimate to being outdoors again. You might want to prepare the planting hole in advance to make planting as quick a chore as possible. If you bought a potted tree, loosen or pry apart roots before placing it in the planting hole.
- River birch is especially handsome in winter, when its peeling bark shows to best advantage. Depending on variety, the bark may be white, brown, cinnamon or orange in color. Though it occurs naturally in moist environments, river birch is also adaptable to drier soils.
- The dark-green, leathery leaves and milky-white berries of mistletoe make it a quintessential holiday decoration. Mistletoe depends on water and nutrients in live trees to survive, but it is considered semi-parasitic because it is also capable of making its own food through photosynthesis. Healthy trees in the landscape are usually able to share their resources with mistletoe with little ill effect.
- The yellow flowers of Chinese witch hazel (Hamamelis mollis) arrive in winter, providing color, interesting fringelike petals and intoxicating perfume. They perform best in full sun to part shade in well-drained, evenly moist, slightly acidic soil that is rich in organic matter. Chinese witch hazel is less hardy than hybrids but is still suitable for most of North Carolina. Temperatures colder than -10 degrees F. will damage flower buds.
- Winter is a perfect time to plant dormant shrubs and trees. In winter and early spring, the plant's energy is focused on healthy root development rather than top growth.
- Remove spent flowers from pansies to encourage new bloom. Remove and discard any yellowed or diseased leaves.
- A glut of garden catalogs this time of year is a joy to many spring- and summer-starved gardeners. But be sure to keep your salivary glands in check as you ogle the goods. Compare prices among catalogs. If a plant is a lot cheaper in one, check the size (usually given in pot size or age of plant). You may discover that different nurseries are offering different size plants. You might also review the customer ratings at Garden Watchdog: http://davesgarden.com/products/gwd.