Water's crucial for a tree-mendous display

Some might think it too early to be choosing a Christmas tree, but they're out there in the market looking for suitable homes.

Saturday, 3rd December 2016, 1:02 pm
Ready-cut Christmas trees are already on sale for your festive displays, but remember to treat them with care if you want them to last. Picture by Tom Pattinson.

When I caught up with friends Michael and Carolyn at their Loaning Head nursery last week they had just taken delivery of the first batch and there was also evidence of holly wreath activity.

The trees looked fresh and ready, but I couldn’t help wondering how they would be treated in their new homes between now and the festivities.

You wouldn’t dream of cutting flowers from the garden and standing them in a vase without water. So why treat a tree that has just been felled and is expected to stand tall, needles and all, in the warmth until Twelfth Night in similar fashion? Look upon it as an oversized cut flower-stem capable of absorbing water and translocating it to all parts.

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Buy your tree, take it home and immediately make a saw cut 2cm above the main stem base to expose fresh conducting cells. Place this in a bucket of water (mine stands in the garage) until you’re ready to display it.

We have a purpose-made, heavy metal stand with a reservoir and screw-in clamps and it works well. In a heated room, water is absorbed and lost through transpiration, also via evaporation, so daily topping-up of the reservoir can amount to half a litre.

Cut Christmas trees are appearing for sale.

Although the traditional Norway spruce (Picea abies) remains popular, and is not the most expensive option, it still has the problem of needle-dropping in the absence of water. A 2m-tall specimen carries an estimated 20,000 of them so you need a game plan to keep them on board.

The Caucasian fir (Abies nordmanniana) costs more, but has a reputation for needle (leaf) retention. Needles are attached by ball and socket joints sunk into the branches. They remain in place even when shrinkage occurs due to lack of water. I still use the reservoir clamp. It helps keep the tree looking fresh.

If a ready-cut tree doesn’t suit, there are other options.

The living item, grown in a pot and responsive to planting outdoors after the event, might be a solution. I’ve seen Scot’s pine, blue spruce, Norway spruce and nordman fir on sale in containers. They need a regular supply of water, good light and a cool position when indoors.

After Christmas, transfer to the garden. If you plan to display it indoors next year, dig a hole large enough to take the tree and pot. This curtails the roots and regulates top growth. It is then easily lifted, trimmed, pot washed, and ready. Alternatively, remove the pot, plant the tree and let it grow freely.