Time to issue my annual warnings to those of you planning
on buying a truly live Christmas tree — one with its roots all wrapped in burlap that you’ll plant outdoors after the holidays.
One, dig the hole on the next nice day, otherwise you
could be stuck with frozen soil and have to imitate a
Warner Brothers cartoon character (BOING!).
Two, these things are HEAVY — typically weighing a couple
hundred pounds, so have lots of help on hand when you need
to move it around.
Three, they can’t stay in a warm house for more than a day
or two and then have a good chance of surviving winter
outdoors. But they ARE a great idea, so consider
decorating it outdoors, on a porch or patio. Use heat-free
LED lights and the tree will stay nice and dormant. Make
sure to water the root ball if we don’t get rain, and the
sooner it goes into the ground, the better.
When you plant:
Remove and discard all the wrappings.
Pick a place where it can grow larger without
becoming a problem. DON’T plant too close to the house.
Don’t plant it too deep, Make sure you see the
root flare above ground.
Fill the hole only with the soil you removed.
Don’t allow any mulch to touch the tree itself and
keep all mulch at 2 inches deep or less.
Keep that Cut Tree FRESH
Going tree shopping this weekend? Trees that are fresh cut
right in front of you at a Christmas tree farm are always
going to stay fresh indoors the longest — and it’s a
really fun family outing. (Click here for a list of Christmas
tree farm sites from last week’s Plots.)
If you buy a pre-cut tree, be sure to cut an extra inch or
two off the bottom when you get it home. (I always buy a
tree that’s a few feet too tall and harvest the lower
branches for fresh-cut greens.)
Either way, sit the freshly cut trunk in a big container
of water for 24 hours before you put the tree into its
stand. That fresh cut will allow the tree to become really
saturated with needle-holding moisture.
Keep it away from heat sources indoors, use cool to the
touch LED lights, and keep the water reservoir filled,
especially for the first week inside and your tree should
keep its needles on the branches and off of your floor.
Removing a Problem Tree
Mary in Leesburg writes: “We have a Bradford Pear in our
front yard that the developer planted and that my husband
wants to get rid of because of the disgusting shoots that
pop up all over our yard. Do we need a bobcat to remove it
completely? And can we be successful in getting all of it
out, including the roots?”
I agree with your husband, Mar — Bradford pears
are real nuisances, from their invasive roots all the way
up to their weak branches. But they’re cheap for growers
to raise and sell, which is why you see so many of them
If you have easy access to a bobcat or backhoe, go for it.
Otherwise, wait for mild weather and dig it out with some
shoveling help. (Sounds like Cold Case of Beer Reward Time
to me!) Get as much of the root system out as you can, but
don’t break your collective necks. No matter what, you’ll
probably have to dig out some surprise stragglers that
appear in the Spring as well.
What Can You Do with Cedar Sawdust?
Liz in Stafford writes: “Could you tell me if there is a
way I can use cedar sawdust around my plants or garden? We
had several cedar trees milled and I collected the saw
dust thinking it could be used as a mulch or possibly to
repel deer. Any suggestions?”
Unfortunately my biggest suggestion is not to use it in
any such way, Liz. Sawdust won’t repel any mammal, much
less deer. It would sicken and weaken your plants if you
mixed sawdust into the soil. And sawdust makes a pretty
But highly aromatic cedar wood has a long and impressive
history of repelling insects indoors. I suggest you fill
cloth bags with the cedar dust and use them to repel
clothes moths in closets and grain moths and other
nuisance insects in kitchen cabinets. Much more effective
than mothballs and a million times safer!
What to do With Old Potting Soil?
Eric in Lothian has a great question for this time of
year. He writes: “I grew some tomatoes, peppers,
strawberries and basil in pots on our deck this year.
Everything is dead now, of course, and I was wondering
what to do with the dirt and plants. Should I throw the
dirt and plants into the compost pile? Just the dirt? Or
can I use that same dirt next year?”
Well Eric, you should certainly compost any plants that
didn’t show signs of disease. (Diseased plant parts should
always go in the trash.)
Your potting soil can go in the pile as well, and it
should if it was just regular old dirt from a garden
somewhere. (And don’t do that again.Fill future containers
with a high-quality bagged potting soil and compost. No
But if you did use a high-quality bagged mix (known as
‘professional mix’ or ‘soil free mix’) to fill your
containers, I’d save it for re-use. Mix it 50/50 with some
fresh potting soil and compost next season. Just be sure
not to re-use any soil that came from tomato containers to
fill next year’s tomato pots.