I live in Massachusetts, Northeastern United States, in Hardiness Zone 6, where the temperatures get down to −10°F (−23.3°C). We're getting to the coldest time right now, although so far this year has been a bit warmer than usual, so the ground isn't fully frozen.
Since the whole point is to keep the tree alive, we've been careful to follow the instructions of the arborist from whom we purchased it.
- Keep the rootball intact in its original burlap
- Put it in a tub with a diameter just a few inches larger than the rootball
- Water it every few days from the top, keeping the rootball moist but not soggy or sitting in a lot of stagnant water
- Keep it in a cool room if possible. (Our 3-season room stays in the 50s or so during the day and 30s at night. We've only heated it to room temperature for a few of the total number of days.)
- Don't use hot Christmas lights, and only leave them on for short periods of time
- Before purchase, dig a hole at least 36 inches wide and 24 inches deep
- Plant the tree outside within 10 to 12 days
- Set it into the hole with the rootball level with the ground
- Backfill the hole with its own dirt and some light mulch or shredded leaves
- Don't water the hole, the dirt, the rootball, or the tree during planting
- Don't water the tree at all until about 3 months from now, at the end of March
We're planning on putting it out in a few days, and I have a question about the watering instruction. Is it true that we shouldn't water it? (Out of curiosity, if it shouldn't be watered, is that true of all trees or just evergreens?) If in fact we should water it, what would the regimen be?
I've never planted or transplanted a tree. However, in my experience with bushes and other plants, the hole and surrounding area should be wet, and once planted, a good soaking is required. Also, the area should be kept consistently moist during the initial settling-in period.
Obviously we don't water our other trees during the winter, so it makes sense that, once established, it would rely on the elements. What I don't understand is why we shouldn't add water after planting. How will the roots spread in the cold dry ground without an initial burst of assistance?
The pictures are of the tree inside; a close-up of the root ball in the pot; the entire planting hole; and a close-up of the bottom of the hole. The soil in the bottom of the hole seems clay-like. It's thick and slimy. It almost feels like mud, just not quite as wet.
Click on all pictures for bigger, closer views.
Update: The tree is fine!
My husband planted it on the 11th day after it had been dug up. He did it by combining the advice from the arborist from whom we purchased it, the generous people who answered me here, and this excellent question/answer. He unfolded the burlap gently. It had no nails and no mesh bottom. Since the rootball was moist and holding together nicely, he removed the entire burlap. Without watering the hole, he gently laid in the tree at the proper depth, and backfilled it with the dirt from the hole, together with some other loose dirt and crushed leaves. No needles dropped and no branches fell. We're glad we didn't water it, as it rained the next day. We had our first deep frost that night, so the timing was perfect! It was a wonderful experience all around. I encourage people to use this method for their Christmas trees. The tree costs much less than it would from a regular nursery; adds to the landscape; provides a great place for birds and squirrels; and doesn't become a side-of-the-road casualty.
I didn't get any great pictures, but for reference as to location, we put it exactly where last year's pre-cut (not planted) Christmas tree was just sitting dead on top of the ground! More pictures of the area can be found in my previous question.
Click on the pictures for bigger, closer, views.