Ask a (local ) Master Gardener about living trees and greenery

  • Rhododendron covered in frost. Jon Meier—Getty Images/iStockphoto

For the Gazette
Published: 11/21/2018 2:45:41 PM

Q: What do I do with my living holiday tree to keep it living until spring? And how do I keep my outdoor winter holiday greenery from shriveling up? —M.T. Easthampton


A: Quick! Get outside and dig a hole for your living tree before the ground freezes for the winter. Save the dirt you dug up in a bag or pail to use around the tree when you plant it. Then breathe a sigh of relief that you have wisely planned ahead and prepared for the time when the tree has served its holiday purpose and you are ready to move it to its traditional home, the soil. 

An evergreen will need a sunny spot, so pick a place in your yard that will ideally provide six or more hours of sun per day. Be sure to dig the hole as deep as you anticipate the pot will be and twice its width. Then cover the hole with a stake or marker of some kind so you can find it under the snow and so no one accidentally steps in it. 

To help ease the tree’s shock going from indoor warmth to outdoor freezing temperatures, transition the potted tree to an unheated mudroom or other sheltered location for a week or two before moving it outside. Remember to water the tree.

After you plant the tree (take it out of its pot first!), add back the soil you saved plus a two-to-three-inch layer of mulch to help protect the tree from the cold, keeping the mulch away from the tree trunk. Water it and it will be all set. I have done this transition with Alberta spruce and have been pleasantly surprised at how well they adapt.

Now onto your other question, M.T.  Boughs of natural outdoor greenery are absolutely gorgeous and add a lovely grace to any home. To your point, the broadleaf evergreens such as boxwood and rhododendron do often start to curl after they have been up a relatively short period of time. There is help! 

You can use the same leaf protection product on these decorative boughs as you use on your outdoor broadleaf shrubs. Ask about natural anti-desiccant products like Wilt Pruf at your local nursery or garden center for an option that will work for your situation. After purchasing the boughs, spray them outside on both the top and bottom of the leaves before putting them up. This protection should help keep them smooth and lovely for the holiday season. Make sure you are downwind when spraying and wear gloves so your hands do not get wet in the cold. Always read and follow the manufacturer’s instructions before you do any spraying. 

I hope these suggestions help, M.T.  Thank you for asking a local Master Gardener!

Have a gardening dilemma? Please send questions, along with your name/initials and community, to the Western Massachusetts Master Gardener Association at One question will be selected and answered per week.

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Northampton, MA 01061


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