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December 21, 2013

1 - You will have much better success starting living Christmas trees from nursery grown plants than from cuttings taken from your cut Christmas tree.

Yard and Garden December 21, 2013

Q.

Our fresh cut Christmas tree was very healthy this year. The needles were moist and none fell from the tree when I shook it vigorously and hit the base against the ground. I know that I am supposed to cut the bottom of the tree before putting the base into water. Since the tree was so fresh, I decided to take the branches from base portion that I cut off and grow new trees. Do I need special chemicals or treatment to cause new roots to form?

A.

You were wise to select a very fresh tree as indicated by the fact that the needles have not dried and are not falling from the tree. However, it is very unlikely that you will successfully grow a new tree from cuttings taken from the base of the tree. Even with rooting hormones (auxins) the branches of conifers are unlikely to produce roots in a home garden setting. Even if you have a greenhouse and could make a strongly concentrated rooting hormone treatment, the chances for success are very limited.

Many people who purchase very fresh trees and care for them well, not letting the water at the base of the tree dry out, may see the buds on the branches beginning to grow by the New Year. This is common in the warm environment of our homes. The sight of growing buds encourages people to try growing the tree from a cutting before the tree is discarded. In your case, starting earlier, you may see the buds begin to grow, but new roots will not form, even if you put the cuttings into good, moist potting soil after treating the base of the cutting with hormones.

If you would like to grow a Christmas tree in your yard, your chances are best with a “living” Christmas tree with roots in a ball of soil. In this case, keep the tree in a cool place so that the buds do not begin to grow when you bring it indoors. Keep it indoors as briefly as possible (only a week or so) and be very sure to keep the root ball moist while it is indoors. Prepare a planting site outdoors if the soil is not frozen and impossible to dig. Fill the hole with straw or other material to insulate it from the cold. Then, as soon as possible after Christmas, plant the tree in the prepared planting site. Water well and mulch the base well. If there is little precipitation in the rest of the winter, water the tree every few weeks.

If the ground is already frozen and you cannot dig a planting hole, place the tree in a shady location protected from the wind. Insulate the root ball with straw bales and water it frequently through the winter until the soil thaws and you can plant your tree.

Or, you can wait until spring and buy a small balled and burlapped or container grown tree to plant when the weather is milder. Your chances of success are much greater than if you try to start with cuttings from the base of your cut Christmas tree.

Please remember to follow all safety precautions with any tree brought indoors for decorations. Keep it away from drying heater vents, open flames, or any other source of ignition.

For more gardening information, visit the NMSU Extension publications Web site at http://aces.nmsu.edu/pubs/_h, or to read past articles of Yard and Garden go to http://aces.nmsu.edu/pubs/periodicals.html

Send your gardening questions to:

Yard and Garden, Attn: Dr. Curtis Smith
NMSU Agricultural Science Center
1036 Miller Rd.
SW, Los Lunas, NM 87031.

Curtis W. Smith, Ph.D., is an Extension Horticulture Specialist emeritus with New Mexico State University's Cooperative Extension Service. NMSU and the U.S. Department of Agriculture cooperating