Cutting, digging or buying a Christmas Tree

Posted 12/5/19

The annual ritual of buying a Christmas tree is upon us. There are several options afforded us here in Taos.

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Cutting, digging or buying a Christmas Tree

Posted

The annual ritual of buying a Christmas tree is upon us. There are several options afforded us here in Taos.

Cut your own

You can cut or dig a tree in the National Forest with a permit. The cost depends on the size of the tree, but is a reasonable $5, $10 or $15. Permits are available at all Forest Service offices through Dec. 23 except in Taos, because it is closed for remodeling. The closest other offices are Questa, Tres Piedras and Peñasco.

With your permit, you will receive a tag, a map of areas open for cutting and guidelines for harvesting. You can get three permits per person.

The Bureau of Land Management is selling tree-cutting permits for $5 until Dec. 23. The permit comes with a map showing where you are allowed to cut.

Live cut trees

If you can't get to the mountains, you can buy a live cut tree in one of several lots around town. These are from tree farms, generally in the Pacific Northwest. Serna's in El Prado grows their own trees in Mora, though. Trees are grown and pruned for about six years to get that coveted perfect triangular shape.

To buy a cut tree, first know what height and width will fit in your space. If you would like extra greenery for boughs and wreaths, get one tall enough that you can cut 8-12 inches from the bottom for extra branches.

Be sure the tree is fresh. Needles should be green and not falling off. Rub your hand down a branch and make sure needles do not drop off. A few may, but it should not be excessive.

Saw an inch or two off the bottom for a fresh cut that will absorb water. Put the tree in a stand that holds at least a gallon of water and keep the reservoir full. Check it daily. If the stump dries out, it will stop taking up water, and the tree will dry out and become a fire hazard.

After the holidays, recycle your tree! There is no reason to send live plant material to the landfill when it will naturally decompose or can be turned into mulch.

Christmas trees make excellent wildlife habitat when put in your brush pile or in a corner of your yard. If you don't have room, find a friend who does. The town also picks up trees to shred for mulch. It's best if they are not decorated with tinsel and fake snow. You can chip your own tree and those of your friends if you have a woodchipper or can rent one.

In the past, I have used trees as trellises in the garden. They are pretty dried out by planting time. You can also prop them up in the yard like a dead snag as shelter and a perch for birds.

Living trees for planting

Finally, you can get living trees that are balled and burlapped (B&B) or already growing in containers. To buy a living tree, first find out what grows best in your yard and where you want to plant the tree. As with any planting, know the height and width at maturity, and allow enough room.

According to New Mexico State University, "Pine species that can, in general, tolerate climates occurring between elevations of 5,500 and 7,500 feet include pinyon pine, Southwestern white pine (P. strobiformis), Austrian pine (P. nigra) and Scotch pine (P. sylvestris). Blue spruce (Picea pungens), a few other spruce species, Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii), white fir (Abies concolor) and bristlecone pine (P. aristata) are excellent choices for upper-middle and high elevations (6,500-8,500 feet). These also will do well at lower elevations where shade is available and soils are not highly alkaline."

A living tree can be heavy and awkward to move around, so be sure you have a means to bring it from the car to the house and back out again to the planting area. Some root balls can weigh 200 pounds, so purchase a size practical for you.

When you get the tree home, put it in an unheated garage or shed. Bring it inside close to Christmas. It should not be indoors for more than a week, or it could break dormancy and start to grow, severely reducing its chances for surviving outside. Place it in a cool spot near a bright window and away from heating ducts.

If the tree is B&B, place it in a water-tight container with a couple inches of gravel in the bottom. Add water to keep the root ball moist and create humidity for the needles. If the tree is in a pot, place it in a larger container that will hold water. Keep the soil moist.

After the holiday, remove the decorations and take the tree back to the garage or shed. Let it acclimate to being outside. If you prepared a hole beforehand, plant the tree within a week. The hole should be twice as wide as the root ball but only as deep. Save the soil from the hole in a place where it won't freeze. Backfill with it when you plant, and water the tree in well.

You can also keep the tree until spring if it is in a shaded protected spot. Water weekly, and plant when the ground is thawed.

You can plan a windbreak or privacy fence with years' worth of living Christmas trees. You will be providing food and shelter for wildlife as well. A living tree is a bit more work at holiday time, but it is a worthwhile investment to enjoy for many years.

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