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Oh, Christmas Tree! Tips for growing your own

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Ever wonder where those live Christmas trees for sale come from?

If they’re Texas born and bred, they’re probably Virginia Pines that grew-up in the tasty acid soils of east Texas, let’s say from the far side of Sulphur Springs on toward the sunrise. In decent climatic conditions these fast growers reach six- to eight-feet-tall in three- to five-years.

The Texas Christmas Tree Growers Association and the Texas Forest Service germinate the seeds, then sell the eight- to 12-inch baby conifers to tree farmers who plant acres of them in the straightest rows you’ve ever beheld. A woodland of one variety of trees of nearly identical height is impressive if you like things pin neat.

But, just for grins, let’s say you want to grow your own Christmas tree. Don’t be in a rush. Your first concern is the soil. Get it tested, then obtain advice on how to make it sufficiently acid. Heavy clay soil will be a problem to be solved before planting. You are aiming for a good size hole filled with loamy top soil. The best source of guidance for these parts of the project is the County Extension Office.

Christmas trees like to grow in full sun on a slope because, except for the first year of life, they prefer reasonably dry tootsies. Water that pools in the suburban landscape means a drainage problem that must be fixed, so take care of that before asking, “What’s next?”

Seedlings need to spend year-one in a pot in greenhouse conditions. The growing mix should be 1:1:1 peat, vermiculite, perlite, plus ¼-teaspoon of lime for each gallon of mix. The goal is neutral pH for new roots. In the soil test results, that’s the number 7 on a scale of 1-14.

If the roots look plentiful, add a pinch of slow-release fertilizer on the soil surface in the pot. During spring and autumn that first year water the wee-tree once a week. Make sure the pot drains. And don’t forget light; they like full sun.

Ideally, the young tree will spend year-two out of the greenhouse– as what people in the business call a transplant– in the ground. Avoid pot-bound roots. Clear out weeds before transplanting.

Let’s say you cover all the bases by planting more than one tree. If soil conditions are just right– and small trees are planted seven- to eight-feet-apart from the get-go– you probably won’t have to dig and transplant a second time. Christmas trees need good air circulation to avoid diseases and pest problems, so be generous with spacing.

After they venture outside, only water during dry periods and drought.

To make the tree look like a triangular Christmas tree start pruning and shearing by the third year when the needles are one-inch-long. Step back, like an artist, to view your work as it progresses. If you wreck the shape who knows how long recovery will take? Shaping is an annual chore usually done in mid-summer.

Pine trees normally have a 30-percent needle loss each year. This stuff is called pine straw and decomposes into acidic material that can be used in the garden. Don’t apply it too thickly or it will prevent water getting into the soil.

At years six-to-nine, the tree will be ready for harvest. Do this in late autumn when moisture is high in the tree’s tissues. Place a harvested tree IMMEDIATELY in a container of water to stop the cut from resealing– the equivalent of blood clotting– which, in the case of a tree, will prevent water absorption.

Contact the writer at noellemhood@gmail.com

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