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The Heart of New England
Grow Your Own Christmas Tree
by Jeanne Sable

Ever buy a Christmas tree that instantly transforms your smooth beige carpet
into a green shag for the holidays? That blizzard of needles reveals that your  
pre-cut, commercially grown tree left its roots up north months ago.

That's why I usually grow and cut my own.

Growing your own Christmas tree takes a little time, but it translates to a
greener, more fragrant, longer-lasting tree infused with the energy you put into
its planting and care
. With a little land and patience, it's not hard to do. I'm not
talking about a full-scale plantation here—just one tree a year for your personal
use.

Whether you have your own back 40 or just a small plot of undeveloped land,
you may already have one or more potential
Christmas trees. You must first
know how to recognize one.  Perfect cone shape? Fullness? Proper size? Forget
all that for now. Initially you're scouting for a small, healthy native conifer with
a straight stem.  It can be fir, spruce, or pine. Even the graceful hemlock makes
an attractive Yuletide tree if you stick to lightweight ornaments. The first rule, of
course, is to make sure it's on your own property.

Nurture the Tree ... for Christmas

If the tree is bare on one side, you might try clearing out any growth around it to
admit more sunlight. If it's crowded by adjacent siblings, you may want to
transplant it. In the spring I often divide at least one sapling from a clump of
naturally seeded balsam fir on my woodlot. The entangled roots yield quite
easily in the soggy soil. I relocate the tree to a compost-filled hole in an open
area around my house or garden. After a couple years, I begin pruning it to the
traditional cone shape.

If you have a yard but no woods to speak of,  you can start by purchasing a live
young evergreen at a nursery or garden center next spring. It can be the
traditional balsam fir or a spruce (white or blue), Douglas fir or even Scotch
pine.  Plant it in a temporary location in a sunny part of your yard. It will grow
faster if you apply an acidic fertilizer or  compost. Plant a new tree faithfully
every year. These small trees will serve as shrubs, adding year-round greenery
to your landscape and providing shelter for birds.

Time and Patience Makes a Good Christmas Tree

A two-foot sapling becomes a good table tree in a couple years. Wait three more,
and you'll have a standard five-foot floor model. Allow an additional year for
every foot of height desired. Meanwhile, your successive annual plantings are
maturing for future holidays, so that after the first harvest,  you'll get a tree
every year.

This method encourages small children to identify various tree species and
assist in their care and planting. They enjoy comparing their own growth to that
of a favorite tree. They also learn something about patience. By the time the first
tree is ready, the toddler who helped find and care for it is now grown enough
to saw it down.

Too Attached to Cut it Down? Decorate for Wildlife

Then again, that child might discover a strange attachment to the tree and decide
it's better left alone. If this happens, all is not lost. You can create some
wonderful ornaments to decorate the tree right where it stands. Pine cones
rolled in peanut butter and sprinkled with bird seed do well. So do strings of
popcorn interspersed with bright red cranberries.

Not only will the birds appreciate these delicacies, they'll probably incorporate
the string into their own craft projects come spring. So who cares if your
homegrown, outdoor Christmas tree isn't as glittery as the neighbors'? Let them
say your tree is for the birds, because it is.

There are, however, a few tricks that let you have your Christmas tree and cut it
too. Many wild conifers develop a multiple stem. You can cut your tree from
one stem, leaving the other(s) in the ground. In a few years, it becomes another
Christmas tree. Or simply cut the top off a tall tree and leave the rest to grow.

One unseasonably warm holiday season I did not have to cut down our tree at
all. I simply dug it up, potted it, and brought it inside. Later, it was replanted
and groomed to grace our living room another year. It was a gift of global
warming, I suppose. But let's hope the digging up of the Yule tree does not
become tradition.

Here's wishing us all a different kind of warmth this holiday season.

About the author Jeanne Prevett Sable is an organic gardener, editor, and freelance
writer specializing in farming and environmental issues, with hundreds of articles
published in local, regional, and national publications. She has written environmental
scripts for children's television, live puppet theater, and the Web. She is also the author of
Seed Keepers of Crescentville, her first novel.
Grow Your Very Own Christmas Tree
The Heart of New England
Celebrating the unique character & culture of Maine ~ New Hampshire ~ Vermont
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