Planting Your Christmas Tree in the Gardens

by Ken Lain, the mountain gardener

An evergreen tree with a starring role in the mountains of Arizona is gaining nationwide popularity. The ‘Single Blue Pinyon Pine‘ is a local variety that gives a bold appearance to a rustic tree. Its blue color blends well in dry mountain landscapes as well as modern and Mediterranean style gardens. The tidy appearance and unusual blue color are stunning. This tree is gaining popularity at farmers’ markets for its pine nut production. Even at a young age, the tree produces pinecones with melt-in-your-mouth nuts. Let it grow wild to 10′ or prune it right after its spring growth for a perfect Christmas tree shape.

January is an excellent month for planting evergreens. The timing is perfect for those using living trees as decorations during the holidays and then growing to maturity after the holiday festivities are over.

Because of their waxy needles and high internal pitch, most conifers need surprisingly little water. Once these trees get up to size, our arid climate, dry soil, and extreme temperatures make them all happier. This holds true for most other high-country natives like pine, cypress, cedar, juniper, and spruce.

These trees, mostly the native pines, do have trouble with our crummy mountain soil. They don’t like to sit in wet soggy dirt. The tree’s internal metabolism is slowed to an almost stasis-like state. New root hairs will form along with next spring’s candle buds as long as the soil drains quickly. That’s why digging the right size planting hole and adding the correct soil amendments are critical for successful planting.

Here are six steps to plant a living evergreen tree successfully, no matter the season.

Watters Premium Mulch

Step 1 – The bowl-shaped hole should be the same depth as the root ball but three times as wide. Plants do not need a bottomless pit; they thrive when able to stretch out just under the soil’s surface, searching for food and water. This is why a bowl-shaped hole promotes the best root development. Rid the hole of rocks and debris larger than a golf ball.

Step 2 – Improve the planting soil by amending with Watters Premium Mulch. Good mulch keeps clay soils loose and aerated, and loose granite will retain water better around the root ball. The amount of mulch per plant should be equal to the size of the root ball. That is the quantity of mulch you’ll need to blend into the native soil used to fill in around each plant.

Step 3 – Evergreen trees are so sensitive to soggy soil they are recommended to be planted on a slight mound. Whatever you do, don’t bury the plant; keep the trunk from sinking below soil level. The top of the root ball you see in the grower’s pot should still be able to see sunlight once planted.

Step 4 – Evergreens need the right plant food for a healthy start. Use my specially blended “All-Purpose Plant Food” 7-4-4, specifically designed for Arizona’s mountain plants. Just sprinkle the granules on top of the root ball and water. The slow-release nutrients promote a deep green color while encouraging thicker root formation each time you water.

Root and Grow Planting Solution

Step 5 – Promote deeper roots with ‘Root & Grow.’  Add liquid rooting hormone when the tree watered. It forces many new root hairs to grow into the surrounding soil. More roots mean a more vigorous plant. Use this root tonic once per month until new candle growth emerges in spring.

Step 6 – Top dress the planting area with a 3-inch layer of shredded cedar bark. This extra layer of nature’s insulation holds moisture in, keeps weeds out, and protects from extreme temperature swings. It is like pulling a thick wool blanket over the roots when they are cold and shivering.

Water – Keep your tree moist but allow it to dry between waterings. Give it a thorough soak twice per month throughout the winter. Once new growth is experienced, bump the watering schedule up to twice a week during the first growing season, them once a week subsequential years.

For exact planting details that include drawings and measurements, ask for my “Guide to Mile High Planting” the next time you visit the garden center. You might also like the useful companion guide, “Mile High Watering.”

Until next week, I’ll be helping festive shoppers pick the perfect living Christmas trees here at Watters Garden Center.

Ken Lain can be found throughout the week at Watters Garden Center, 1815 W. Iron Springs Rd in Prescott, or contacted through his web site at or .