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The Guilts About Our Christmas Tree!
by Liz Primeau
by Liz Primeau

Liz Primeau's second edition of Gardening for Canadians for Dummies, updated and with a new chapter on using art in your garden, plus a design and garden-care workbook section, will be released in January, 2002.

She is at present writing a new book on front-yard gardens, to be published by Firefly Books in spring, 2003.

Liz is the the founding editor of the Canadian Gardening magazine.

December 2, 2007

Everyone has their little quirks. Here's one of mine: after we've chosen our Christmas tree and it's being put in the car, I apologize to all the other trees in the lot for rejecting them. To me, they're like puppies in the pound excitedly waiting for a new home. I feel bad that I'm leaving them behind.
My husband thinks I'm nuts and on more than one occasion has suggested we circumvent my pain by buying an artificial tree. But I won't have one of those tacky things in the house--I want the aromatic presence of a real tree or nothing at all, which has been the case in recent years. Still, I worry about the hundreds, perhaps thousands, of young trees cut down every year in the prime of their lives just to satisfy an ancient custom, and then withering their short lives away in a corner lot. 
The year before I gave up the Christmas-tree habit I decided we should be responsible nature lovers and buy a live, potted tree we could later transfer to the garden. It took some planning. In early November I dug a large hole in the spot we'd chosen for the tree. I added compost and manure to the excavated soil, bagged it and dragged it into the garage so it wouldn't freeze. I dug compost and manure into the soil at the bottom of the hole, just as I'd do if were planting that very day. I even watered the soil to ensure it would contain enough moisture. It was like preparing the nursery for an addition to the family. 
In mid-December we bought a five-foot white spruce in a fibre pot and introduced it gradually to the warmth of our living room. The week before Christmas we brought in inside to stay and decorated it with lights and the usual paraphernalia; the day after Boxing Day the decorations came down and the hardening off process began--day one, the tree went outdoors for an hour; day two, two hours; by the time a week or so had passed the tree could spend 24 hours beside the waiting hole (I assure you we didn't get up in the night to take the tree in or put it out; at some point you have to have to admit that nothing's perfect). Then we planted the tree. We watered it every day and protected it from the wind with a burlap screen. It survived beautifully. 
George Mather of Humber Nurseries in Brampton, Ontario, says we were lucky. "When you bring a live tree indoors, even if you introduce it gradually, you break its normal cycle," he says. "It's late fall so it's going into dormancy, but your warm living room makes it think it's spring and it starts to grow." Our tree probably survived, he says, because we didn't keep it indoors too long and we kept in a reasonably cool place--away from a heat vent and near a window. "The best place to put a living Christmas tree is on the back porch or patio outside your sliding doors, or in an unheated sunroom," he says. Hardening a tree off before you plant it, as we did, may help a bit, but not if it's spent a lot of time in a warm room and its sap has started to run. 
You should see our tree now, 17 years later. It's green and healthy, standing proud at least 40 feet high in our front garden. Despite my wish never to visit a Christmas tree lot again, and despite George's caveats, I'd consider having a living Christmas tree every year. It might be fun to live in a forest of memories.

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