Writer: D'Lyn Ford
LAS CRUCES -- Instead of buying a cut tree that will dry up, drop needles in the carpet and require the services of a garbage collector, some New Mexicans are turning to live Christmas trees that can be enjoyed long after the lights and decorations are removed.
"The most important consideration is to select a species that will grow where you live," said Bob Cain, forest entomologist with New Mexico State University's Cooperative Extension Service . "New Mexico has very diverse climates, so trees that are suited for planting in the northern part of the state aren't necessarily the best choices in other regions."
Afghan pines are popular live Christmas trees in southern portions of the state. "However, these trees should not be planted north of Socorro, or at elevations higher than 5,000 to 6,000 feet," he said. "Some homeowners have had success planting Afghan pines in Albuquerque, but that's really pushing the range of this species and isn't recommended."
Piņon trees grow throughout most of the state and make excellent live Christmas trees. Higher elevation trees like white pine, white fir and Rocky Mountain Douglas fir should not be planted at lower elevations.
"Wherever they're planted, higher elevation trees should be monitored very carefully for stress," Cain said.
When selecting a live Christmas tree that will be replanted later, check to make sure it has an adequate size root ball. The root ball should be at least 8 or 9 inches in diameter for every inch of diameter at the base of the tree, he said. "The larger, the better."
For container-grown trees, lift the tree from the pot, if possible, and check for any large, circling roots at the edges of the root ball. "Small roots near the edge of the root ball are fine," he said. "But larger roots wound around the root ball indicate the tree has been potted too long."
Cain recommends selecting a young tree. "Young trees handle transplanting stress better," he said. "They also are smaller and easier to move in and out of the house." Older trees will have more furrowed, woody bark while younger trees will have smoother bark.
After purchasing a live Christmas tree, store it outside in the shade. "Live trees can tolerate some sunlight, but make sure the root balls stay moist because the trees will be transpiring or losing water through their needles," he said.
During the holidays, Cain recommends keeping a live tree inside the house only for a week or two. "If you try to keep the tree inside for a month, you're going to risk breaking the tree's dormancy. Moving the tree outside after that reduces its chances for survival."
Select the final planting location for your tree early in the season and dig the hole before the ground freezes. "When the ground is frozen, it may be difficult to dig an adequate size hole for the tree," Cain said. "If you dig the hole early, you can plant the tree immediately after Christmas."
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