Having a live tree is an appealing idea, but it requires careful planning to have a good chance of success, says Plant Information Specialist Doris Taylor.
In the fall, choose a suitable site in your landscape for the tree. Choose the kind of tree for its outdoor purpose and the conditions of the site, rather than for its qualities as indoor décor.
Buy a small balled-and-burlapped tree or a tree grown in a large container. A smaller tree has a better chance of survival and a large tree may be too heavy for you to move, Taylor says. Keep the soil moist as you store the tree in a cool, sheltered location such as a garage, porch, or shed.
In the fall, before the ground freezes, dig a wide, saucer-shaped planting hole. Cover the hole and the excavated soil with straw so it will not freeze.
A few days before Christmas, wrap the root ball or pot in plastic and bring the tree indoors. Place the tree in a cool location away from fireplaces, heat registers or radiators. Keep the soil moist.
Leave the tree indoors for no more than five to seven days; less is better, Taylor says. Too much time indoors may bring the plant out of dormancy, causing stress when it returns to the cold.
Immediately after Christmas, remove the tree from the house to a cool, sheltered location. Do not let the root ball freeze.
On a relatively mild winter day, remove the straw from the hole and plant the tree. Make sure the flare of roots to trunk is at or a little above soil level. Fill the hole with the excavated soil. Mulch well.
Keep the tree watered all through the following spring, summer, and fall.