A live Christmas tree with presents around it
Joshua Paul

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Right Now: Select a Spot Outside
Find the perfect place for your new tree before you buy it, and use still-warm days to prep for planting.

Consider your tree's mature size, and make sure the planting area is far enough away from the house or street. Most conifers prefer full sun; check your tree's requirement.

In Zones 2 and 7, frozen ground may make digging impossible, so prepare a sheltered spot out of direct wind to store the tree outdoors until it can be planted in spring. In warmer areas (Zones 8 and 11), where soil is workable, dig a hole, and then fill it with leaves to mark the spot. Store the soil you've removed where it won't freeze (in a garage or shed) -- you'll need it to fill the hole after planting.

Ready To Buy: Choosing a Tree
Before heading to the nursery or tree lot, keep three things in mind:

Make sure the tree loves the climate in which you live. This is a big purchase; buy wisely.

Price will be determined by the species, size, and shearing done by the grower. Conifers that are sheared and tapered cost more than landscape-grade trees that receive no special care. Living Christmas trees can range from $30 to more than $300 -- expect to pay more for a greeting-card-perfect tree.

Trees are sold container-grown or balled-and-burlapped (B&B). Trees in containers weigh less and don't require potting for indoor use, while the larger B&B trees adapt easily once planted outdoors. Unless you need a really large plant, we recommend container trees.

Decorate and Enjoy: Keep Your New Tree Happy Indoors
Finally, it's time to bring the tree inside and decorate!

Choose a decorative container (a must for a B&B tree, optional for a container-grown). Select one close to the size of the root ball to maintain moisture levels. Fill in any gaps with potting soil.

Place the tree away from direct heat sources, including vents, fireplaces, and kitchen stoves. A cool room (especially one with lots of natural light) is best so the tree doesn't break dormancy. Keep indoors for no more than 10 days.
Water the tree daily by placing about 30 ice cubes onto the top of the root ball and letting them melt slowly. Strings of lights emit heat that can cause trees to dry out quickly, so use for short periods of time -- or consider flashing lights.

After the Holidays: Take Your Tree Outdoors
Care now will ensure a big future for your tree.

Insulate the root ball with packed leaves if you aren't planting the tree immediately.

Cut away string with a sharp knife if the neck of the root ball has been trussed (bound); if the material covering the root ball is nylon material rather than organic like burlap, carefully remove it completely so it won't inhibit rooting. Lightly score root ball with a sharp knife. Plant so the root ball is 1 to 2 inches above ground level. Where soils are heavy and clay-based, plant even higher (3 to 4 inches above ground level).

Water well at planting and regularly where winters are dry. Do not fertilize if planting in winter; instead, feed in early spring.

By Kate Karam

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