Live evergreen trees
Photograph by Susie Cushner
At a nursery, The Victory Garden's Kip Anderson examines balled-and-burlapped evergreens that can be used as landscape plants after Christmas. He looks for needles that appear bright and springy and checks that the roots are well watered.

For those who are fond of a traditional towering cut pine or balsam, a live tree may require some compromises, says Kip Anderson, the gardener on the PBS television show The Victory Garden. Anderson chose the Evartses' Fraser fir, at a cost of about $82, and helped them plant it (see next page). For starters, he says, think small. Living trees are heavy—a 6-foot variety in a 15-gallon container of soil weighs about 200 pounds. "Any bigger and you'd need a crane to get it into your living room," he says. He likes 4-foot species, which are easier to deal with. He also recommends that landscape evergreens spend no more than a week or so indoors—and preferably in a fairly cool room. "If you keep your house at seventy-five degrees, you're going to have a problem," he says. "The tree will think it's April or May and it could break dormancy; when that happens, it starts to produce new growth buds that won't survive outside in late December. That will kill the tree."

Depending on where you live, putting the new tree in the ground also poses some challenges. "It's just not a good time of year to be planting a tree in the North," says grower Mannhard. "But it can be done by planning ahead and digging the hole in November, before the ground freezes." You won't know exactly how big your tree's root ball will be, says Anderson, "but if you dig a hole about two feet in diameter and eighteen inches deep, you should be fine for a four-foot tree."

Anderson advises choosing a location carefully: Typical Christmas tree varieties such as white spruce and Colorado blue spruce can grow to 60 feet, blocking views and shading out gardens—something he's observed firsthand as two 4-foot spruce varieties planted at the Victory Garden 25 Christmases ago have now matured into 40-footers. "A good spot is along a property line, away from the house," he says. And be sure to pick a type of tree that's appropriate for your climate. Spruces and firs are well suited to the wintry Northeast; better choices in mild climates are certain varieties of cypress, cedar, and pine. Be aware that while firm-needle varieties such as spruces and Fraser firs are naturally pyramidal, those with softer needles, including white pines and Douglas firs, may have been pruned to perfect Christmas-tree shape, but characteristically take on a more irregular form in maturity. A reliable nursery will offer advice, as well as reference books and pictures of full-grown trees.

This year, the Evartses are choosing between a white spruce and a Colorado blue. "I really like the scent of a spruce," says Vicki. "Hopefully, we'll be appreciating this tree for a long time."

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