Metro-East Living

Here’s how you can keep your Christmas tree once the gifts are opened

Get your hole dug early if you know the size of the root ball you’ll be planting.
Get your hole dug early if you know the size of the root ball you’ll be planting.

Q. We would like to buy an evergreen tree with the ball of soil and roots to place in our yard after Christmas. What should we do to prepare for this?

K. H. of Collinsville

A. First, purchase at least one bale of straw to spread over the soil where you want to plant your new evergreen tree to keep the soil from freezing before the planting takes place. Or, dig the hole now if you know how big it will be, then fill it with straw to prevent freezing in the hole.

Take the soil you removed and cover it with straw and then another covering to keep it dry.

If you plan to keep this tree indoors for the Christmas holidays, don’t keep it there more than five days. Plus, before planting, you need to acclimate the tree that’s been indoors to a cooler-weather area, such as a porch or in an unheated garage, for a couple of days. Then after planting, water it thoroughly and mulch it heavily to help it through the rest of winter.

Q. Is it too late for fertilizing the lawn?

D. W. of Glen Carbon

A. No, in fact usually the day after Thanksgiving is one of the best for doing this. Just make sure the fertilizer is low in nitrogen but high in amounts of phosphorus and potassium. This mix will help to harden off the grass to tolerate the adverse winter conditions. This is especially helpful if you also fertilized the lawn in October and it is lush and soft going into winter.

This late application should not exceed 1 pound of actual nitrogen per 1,000 square feet. This will ensure the roots and rhizomes of your lawn will continue to grow below the surface of the soil. Secondary tillers will develop from the crown of the lawn plants as long as the soil has not frozen or is covered with snow.

The added benefit to your health is working off some calories from your Thanksgiving Day meal.

Q. I planted several tulip poplar trees this spring. Now, my best-growing tree has broken off and is laying at a 90-degree angle with just a small amount of tissue connected. What should I do to save it?

L.W. of Freeburg

A. Prune off the rest of the remaining plant tissue so that the tree will not tear any more of the bark tissue down any lower on the stem.

Next spring, watch for the latent buds that will sprout out from the remaining trunk. Choose the best-looking stem — and hopefully the tallest — and stake it upward so that it will become the new upright central leader. Prune off the other buds which may develop.

In the spring, with all the roots below supplying nutrients, water this newly trained stem and it will grow very quickly. You will have to brace one stem sit it will develop into your desired vertical new trunk. Don’t be surprised by the amount of growth that will take place this next spring.

Do not give up on this new branch; be patient with it. You may still end up with this tree being your best tree as time goes on.

Charles Giedeman is a local contributing writer. Send your gardening questions to Suzanne Boyle, Belleville News-Democrat, P.O. Box 427, 120 S. Illinois St., Belleville, IL 62222-0427, or email them to