Gardening glee for Christmas trees

Wednesday, December 10, 2003 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 11:52 a.m. CDT, Friday, July 18, 2008

What are plant lovers to do now that the weather has turned cold and there’s not much going on in the garden?

Lots and lots of tasks come to mind.

One thing that I enjoy is gathering all the seed and plant catalogs that have accumulated in my mailbox over the last two weeks and start planning for spring.

I don’t do much vegetable gardening, but I do have several perennial beds that I am constantly adding to and changing around. I really don’t care what the tag says about the needs of certain plants. I have found over the years that even if I give plants exactly what they want according to the card or catalog, some plants just do not survive well for me. So I tend to stick with native plants and hardy perennials that are low maintenance.

Also, by early December I like to have a nice layer of mulch put down on my beds, especially around some of my more tender plants like roses, dianthus, delphinium and clematis.

My favorite activity in December, however, is to decorate for Christmas. In my house, this includes a real tree. No fake ones here, folks.

How do you pick out a good tree that will last three to four weeks and still look nice?

First of all, decide what type of tree you want to have. Pines have the longest-lasting needles, while spruces tend to drop their needles very quickly, and firs are somewhere in the middle. All fresh trees should be fragrant, but firs and white pine tend to be more fragrant than other evergreens.

To be sure you have chosen a fresh-cut tree from a tree lot, check for green pliable needles that are firmly attached. The cut end should be sticky with sap. Tap the bottom of the tree trunk lightly on the ground. If lots of dry, brittle needles fall to the ground, keep looking.

You may decide that to get the freshest tree, you need to cut your own. You may pay a little less for your tree if you cut it yourself, but even if it runs the same price as the trees from the lot, cutting your own tree assures freshness, so you’re still getting a good value for your money. Tree hunting can be a fun family outing that could turn into a yearly tradition.

Regardless of where you get your tree, proper care once you bring it home will extend its life. Before placing the tree in your stand, make a fresh cut across the bottom of the trunk to aid in water uptake. You want to keep the trunk under water at all times so be sure to check your water level on a daily basis.

Avoid placing your tree in hot or cold drafts, as they will promote needle drop. Allowing needles to dry out can cause your tree to become a fire hazard, so also be sure to keep it away from fireplaces, televisions and other heat sources. Proper care of your fresh tree is the best fire prevention, but since most trees don’t last much longer than three weeks, you don’t want to buy your tree too early.

Once the holiday season is over, you can stake your tree outside, sans lights and ornaments of course, and decorate it with bird-food ornaments. You want to be sure the trunk is secured to the ground so the winter winds won’t blow it away. Your birds will love you for providing them with food as well as shelter. If you prefer not to feed the birds, you can chip up the tree for mulch yourself or check with Boone Electric on its tree collection dates. Discarded trees are chipped up for use as mulch in city parks.

Bossaller, who is completing a Master Gardener class, can usually be found out in her perennial beds with her dog or tending to her growing number of container gardens. She may be contacted at

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