Indoor Pine TreesPotted Christmas Trees

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It's a beautiful fall day here in Michigan, the leaves are about at peak, the chill is in the air, and the Christmas Trees are up in the stores. Wait a minute! Didn't it used to be, that the stores didn't put up their trees until December???

Oh, well, they're up now, which means that the sales of those little pine trees will follow shortly. You know, those "REAL fir (or other pine) trees" that you're supposed to plant outside in the spring and 100 or so years from now they'll actually be a large tree, but right now they're about 6 inches to a foot high?

Usually, though, these things don't make it a month in a normal household environment. Here's some tips to increase your chances of actually having one live long enough to get it planted outside in a reasonably healthy condition.

Normally, pines are subjected to a period of wretched freezing outside. Their leaves (the needles) are protected from drying by a waxy layer which may or may not be visible.

But, in a greenhouse environment (like these commercially sold jobbies are grown in), there are hot, humid conditions. The pines get "lazy" and do not produce this waxy layer in the normal thickness. They are also used to high light. Pines normally need this (think of a pine forest--the shaded branches all die). But, their leaves are exceptionally prone to drying-- this is why they make that wax. In a greenhouse, they do not receive the signal to do so.

Once you get them home, they go from this humid, bright, environment into one which is quite DRY and dim. To keep them alive for long, you must help them compensate. Since the wax hasn't developed, at least not enough to do any good, the plant will need high humidity maintained.

UNFORTUNATELY, BUT TRUE, this means covering it up! Cover it up with a clear plastic bag (bread wrappers work REALLY well). Then stick it in the BRIGHTEST WINDOWSILL. You will need to harden it off. Only with THIS hardening off, you're not getting it used to the wind and elements, but to the dryness in most homes.

On the first day, only take the bag off for about 10 minutes. Every couple of days, leave the bag off longer--about 5 minutes longer at first, then 10 more after a couple of weeks of the 5-minute extensions. This will give it time to build up the wax so it doesn't dry out. IF THE PLANT STARTS LOOKING STRESSED, leave the bag on longer! Cut back on "air time".

These don't like the indoor environment one bit, but with careful humidity management, you can keep 'em going until they can go outside where they belong. If you want to display one of these without the bag for the holidays, you will need to get yours NOW and start toughening it up, or you run a HIGH RISK of losing a tree for one or two days' beauty. It takes about a week for lethal drying to SHOW--but less than half a day to actually make the kill if the plant isn't ready for dry conditions.

It's unfortunate that these are sold in such a way that they are not adapted to the environment that they are going to be placed in, but, until retailers demand that the plants be prepared, the Bread Bag is our best ally.

Remember, also, to make sure the SOIL is not soggy. The roots are not what's the problem here. Soggy soil will only rot them, and the tops aren't helped by overwatering, since the circulatory system of the plant just isn't set up to deliver high volumes of water no matter how much is available to the roots(the wax would normally prevent the high demand up at the leaves [needles]).

Happy Gardening and Happy Holidays (already!)

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