As the Christmas season approaches, many of us will be watching “A Christmas Story” and reminiscing about past Christmas trees. Some of these may have been picked from a local Christmas tree lot and loaded onto the top of a car. Once they got home, they were placed into a tree stand and brought into the home. With everyone’s help lights, garland, and ornaments were placed perfectly on the tree to create the best tree ever seen until next year.
This tradition creates beautiful memories that are discussed over Christmas dinner and beyond, but there is another tradition that continues to give well after the holidays. This tradition, one may ask, is digging ones own Christmas tree.
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While digging a tree may seem like a simple task, digging it incorrectly affects its appearance during the holidays and after.
The decision to dig your own Christmas tree though should be made in October or when the ground has not frozen in your local area. It is easier to pre-dig the hole for the tree before the ground freezes.
A good overall size for the hole is 5 feet across and 3 feet deep. Place the soil that is removed from the hole in a wheelbarrow and mix with either well-seasoned compost or manure. Once it is mixed, place the soil in a bucket and store it in an area where the soil will not freeze.
Cover the hole with a piece of plywood and place brightly colored flags around the area. This precaution will prevent anyone from falling into the hole.
The next step in digging ones own Christmas tree is preparation. One must know the dimensions of the area where you are going to put the tree. This includes the height and width measurements.
Then, one must decide when the tree could be dug. Trees that are dug and balled do not do well indoors for a long period of time. The best approach is to plan to dig the tree around the second week of December, but do not plan to put the tree indoors during this time. It will need to stay outdoors for another week and then acclimate to the indoor environment slowly. This is done by placing the tree in the garage or barn for a couple of days prior to moving indoors.
After the hole has been pre-dug and the measurements have been obtained, the next part of the process is deciding where to go. The National Christmas Tree Association is a great tool to use when searching for a local Christmas tree farm. The site has a zip code finder that one can use to locate the closest tree farm.
Once you have your tree requirements and the directions to the tree farm, the next step is to prepare for the trip. Hot chocolate, warm clothes, gloves, a colorful flag, old watering hose, burlap, twine and straps for the trunk will be needed for the trip along with a shovel. Do not forget the camera; this will be a memory that you will want to treasure and share.
When you arrive at the farm, first take a survey of the type of trees available and narrow down your choices down by your height requirement. To determine the width of the tree, one must measure the drip line. The drip line is created by the lowest branches and is also an indication as to where the outer most of the root ball is located. A drip line that is small in diameter is an indication that the root ball is not too big, which equates to one that is not too heavy. This is very important since you will be picking up the tree and its root ball.
Once you have selected your tree, the next step is to outline the area where you will be digging. The easiest way of doing this is to lay an old watering hose six inches outside of the drip line.
After the watering hose has been laid, one will need to dig a one-inch trench all the way around the tree. This trench is what will help separate the root ball from the ground. Once this trench is dug, the next step is to remove the soil from the underneath the tree. This is done by removing soil from the outside of the trench while working toward the trunk. As the process continues, one will begin to see the formation of a ball. Do not be alarmed it you hit a few roots. This is part of the process and may require the use of an axe if the roots are very thick.
Continue to dig until you have freed the tree from the ground. Once that is done, it is time to ball the tree. This requires burlap and twine. The process of balling a tree is simple. The first step is to remove the tree from its hole and place it on a large square of burlap. Pull the burlap up around the root ball of the tree and secure with twine.
After the tree has been balled, place a flag on the tip of the tree and load into your vehicle.
When you get the tree home, place in a container such as a whiskey barrel or just leave in the burlap. Check the roots daily for moisture level. If the soil begins to dry out, water the tree just like you would any other plant.
When ready to move indoors, place in a decorative container that can not only hold the root ball, but also water. The tree will also need to be watered while inside.
After the holidays have passed, it is time to plant your tree in the ground. To do this, move the tree to the hole and place in the hole. The tree’s root ball should not stick up above the hole nor should it be below the hole, instead the soil level of the hole and the soil level of the root ball should be the same. If the hole is not the correct depth, adjust accordingly.
Once the hole is the correct size, it is time to tease the roots of the tree and the sides of the hole. Teasing the roots requires the gardener to loosen the soil around the roots. This will allow the roots to grow outward instead of in a compact circle.
Teasing the sides of the hole requires one to take a rake and scrape the sides of the hole. This allows the roots to break through the sides of the hole and grow outward.
After the hole has been prepared, place the tree in the hole and begin to fill in with the soil and compost mixture created when the hole was dug. Continue to fill in until the soil level is equal to the soil’s surface. Once this is done, water the tree in and add additional soil as needed.
The technique described above can be used to dig up any type of tree. Keep in mind that there are three things one must keep in mind before digging up a tree. One, do not dig a tree up that is so big that you can not lift it out of the ground. Second, when planning on digging up a tree consider its mature size before digging. Trees do have a tendency to grow and that cute five-foot tree will grow to be several feet in height when mature so plan accordingly. Finally, do not dig up a tree if you do not have the time to take care of it. Trees need to be cared for until they are established and in some situations beyond.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mindy McIntosh-Shetter has been an Agricultural Science educator, and is a horticulture and/or environmental blogger who earned a degree from Purdue University in Agriculture Education with a minor in biology, and natural resources. Presently she is finishing up her Masters in Environmental Education and Urban Planning for the University of Louisville while working on her own agriculture/environmental blog.