The current climate has certainly promoted a general yearning for simpler, perhaps more natural, times, so I’m guessing that more of us may have chosen living Christmas trees, rather than felled or artificial specimens, this festive season.
After ‘Twelfth Night’ you will have to decide what to do with a living tree in a pot. Whether to keep it in a pot or whether it’s better to plant it out into the ground (if you are fortunate enough to have access to a garden).
The chances are your Xmas tree is likely to be either the original ‘Norway Spruce’, with finer needles, or the more recently introduced ‘Nordmann Fir’ with broader needles. Either way, they are both species which need to be grown outdoors, reaching full tree proportions if left unmolested, and cannot be kept as houseplants. They are likely to have suffered a little, in the unnaturally hot and dry conditions of the average home, not to mention suffering the indignation of being festooned with various gewgaws, tinsel and fairy lights.
As long as you have kept them well-watered, during their time indoors, they should be able to recover once they return outside. It might be a bit of a shock to go straight outdoors, especially in January temperatures, having just spent a few weeks in hotter, drier and darker than ideal conditions. To acclimatise the tree more gently, where possible, it’s best to place it in a light, frost-free, place, an unheated greenhouse would be ideal, and keep it well watered for a week or two.
Release it back into the wild whenever a mild, for January, spell of weather is forecast. On the allotted day you have a choice of either finding a nice spot in the garden or repotting it into a new pot, one size up from the one that you bought it in. Whichever you choose the first thing you’ll have to do is to knock the tree out of its current pot. Hopefully at this point you will find that your tree has a good root system which has filled the original pot and is crying out to be given a little extra growing room. If the root system is dead, diseased or, in the case of less scrupulous suppliers, completely missing then it’s probably best to cut your losses and consign the tree to the bonfire or to the Xmas tree recycling scheme.
If replanting it in the garden then remember that mature Fir or Spruce trees both reach heights of hundreds of feet, in their native habitats, and are certainly not suited to constricted spaces. Having said that, worst case scenario is that you get to enjoy it for a good few years before needing to call in the tree surgeon. When planting it out the usual tree planting rules apply; dig a hole much larger than the rootball; improve the garden soil with a generous dollop of organic matter; bury the rootball so that it’s no deeper than it was in the pot; refill with the improved garden soil; firm in very well with your feet (most people do not firm the soil well enough to anchor the plant); water in well even if rain is forecast because the watering is required to ensure the roots are in intimate contact with the surrounding soil—it’s nothing to do with lack of water which is seldom a problem in a British winter.
Unless you bought a massive Xmas tree, with a tiny rootball, it should not be necessary to stake the tree unless it is in a very exposed site or you are unable to firm the soil around the rootball to the required degree.
Repotting your tree into a larger pot gives you the option to bring it in again next Christmas, assuming you’ve kept it alive in the meantime, and to keep reusing it for as long as it remains suitably sized. Find a new pot that is just a few inches larger than the old one and prepare the rootball by rubbing some of the exhausted compost without losing all of the root system. Use fresh potting compost so that the rootball sits centrally in the new pot with a cushion of new compost all around plus enough room at the top to allow for generous watering. Water in well and keep the potted Xmas tree in a sheltered place, but not somewhere so sheltered that it does not receive adequate light or so remote that you forget to water it regularly—especially during the summer months. If you look after it diligently, only repotting it into slightly larger pots each year, then it should respond like a bonsai specimen and remain small enough to use indoors for many years to come.
Elsewhere there is a welcome lull in gardening activity as far as the more active tasks are involved. On nice, bright, not too chilly days there’s always some pruning, digging or clearing to get to grips with. If you were one of the many that took to gardening as a response to the Covid crisis then January is a good time to think about how to progress going forwards.
Joining the ‘Royal Horticultural Society’ might be a good place to start because it’s a fantastic source of knowledge and inspiration for every aspect of the hobby. If you’re not quite ready for that degree of commitment then some armchair gardening, such as ordering seeds to sow in the weeks ahead, is a good way to keep the faith until the growing conditions outside are more favourable.
2021 surely has to be an improvement on 2020?
Happy New Gardening.