Each year more than 40 million Americans buy Christmas trees. Before the new year, most of those family memories are chipped into mulch or discarded.
Why not make your memories last a lifetime by buying and then planting a living Christmas tree?
"Christmas trees decorate our homes at the holidays. But we can use them to decorate our landscapes, beautify our parks or dress up our school yards year-round," said Walter Reeves, a horticulture educator with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.
"Kids can make it a project for their local neighborhood or school," Reeves said. "They can have fun learning about native trees, the environment and how to plant trees."
One Georgia group, The Society for Living Christmas Trees, has already made this a yearly tradition.
"The Society was formed by families who wanted to contribute to their community and develop a unique family tradition," Reeves said.
The first step in starting this tradition is knowing what type of tree to buy. The Society offers these tips:
- Buy trees that are native to your area. You must have trees that can survive in our climate.
- The smaller the tree, the better. Trees that are too large are hard to move. They're also easy to damage and generally aren't as healthy as smaller trees.
- Buy healthy trees. If you tree has a root ball, make
sure it's firm and compact, not
loose or soft. Look for a tree with rich green color and
Make sure the root ball is big enough to support the tree. The American Nursery Association suggests that the root ball should be 8 inches across for every inch of diameter of the trunk.
- Transport and handle with great care. Always lift the tree by the root ball, not by the trunk.
"You don't want to keep the tree inside for more than 10 days or the tree will think it's warm weather," Reeves said. "When you move it outside, the cold will shock it."
Keep the tree in a large container filled with pine bark or saw dust. Stir the filler and make a basin for the root ball. Place a second waterproof liner under the container to protect the floor from leaks.
Two cups of water every other day will replenish moisture lost when you move it inside. Or place a handful of ice cubes on the root ball. As they melt, they will water the tree.
It's helpful, too, to spray the branches of your tree with a light mist of water every other day. Be sure to unplug all decorative electrical lights or fixtures while watering your tree.
Avoid extreme temperature changes. Just like people, trees don't like going quickly from cold to hot or vice-versa. Move your tree into a garage or utility room for a few days first, then into your house.
"Moving it in is just half the battle," Reeves said. "Moving it back out is the real challenge."
Move the tree with care. Select the place that's best for the tree and will contribute the most to your landscape or the community.
The SLCT recommends calling local organizations that have beautification projects and need trees. Or organize your house of worship, community organization or school to beautify an area in the community. It's an easy way to create an instant forest.
To learn more about how to plant a living tree, contact your UGA Extension Service county office. For more on planning a living Christmas tree project, call 1-877-GAGROWS and request the living Christmas tree publication.
You can join the SLCT by writing to The Society for Living Christmas Trees, 475 Seminole Ave., Atlanta, GA 30307.
(Faith Peppers is the director of public affairs with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)