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Past Articles Library | Trees | The Ins and Outs of Digging Your Own Christmas Tree


A Christmas tree is a wonderful symbol of the holiday season.  Many individuals will stomp through the Christmas tree farm in search of that special tree but very few know how to properly dig it up.  While digging it up incorrectly will not affect its appearance during the holiday season it can affect its ability to survive in the ground.

The first thing that needs to be done in October or before the ground freezes is to predig the tree’s hole.  Digging soil that is not frozen is a lot easier then trying to dig the hole in December.

The size of the hole is a guess but a good bet is to make it at least 5 feet in diameter and at least 3 feet deep.  Once the hole is dug, place the soil in a wheelbarrow and mix with a well-decomposed compost or seasoned manure.  Place this new soil mixture in a bucket and store it out of the weather but near the hole.

Next, cover the hole with a piece of plywood and mark the area with flags.  This precaution will prevent any possible injury from someone stepping into the hole.

The next step required is the timing of when to dig the tree.  Dug and balled trees do not do well in the indoor environment and if left out of the ground too long can even die.  Choose when you did your tree carefully.  It is fine to dig your tree around the second week of December but do not place in the house.  Leave outside until a week before Christmas, then move to a garage or barn to acclimate to the indoors.  After a few days, move indoors and decorate.


Now that you know what is involved when you get your tree home, lets get it out of the ground.  The first thing that needs to be done is to know what height you need.  Nothing is as discouraging as to dig a tree that is too tall for the room. If this occurs there are only two things that can be done.  One cut the top out but if this is done it will affect the future shape and height of the tree.  Second, one can just go ahead and plant the tree.

Once you know the height, go around and find the trees that meet the criteria.  Next, look at the shape of the tree and how far out the lower branches are located.  The line that the lower branches create is where the tree’s roots are located or what is better known as the drip line.

A small in diameter drip line equates to a root ball that is not very big or heavy.  Keep this fact in mind when looking at the trees.

After you have selected your tree, the next step is to outline where you are going to start digging.  The line needs to be 6 inches from the drip line.  Outline the area with an old piece of watering hose.

Next, begin to dig the trench that will help separate the root ball from the ground.  This trench needs to one inch deep.  After this trench has been dug, the next step is to remove additional soil from underneath the tree as you go toward the trunk.  This process is what begins to create the ball shape.  Do not be alarmed about hitting some roots.  This is part of the process and you may want to keep an axe around to help you get through the roots.

Continue to dig until you begin to free the tree from the soil.  The root ball can be very large so be prepared.  Small trees can have a root ball between 12 and 18-inches in diameter while large trees warrant larger root balls.

Once the tree is free, place the root ball on a large square of burlap.  Pull the burlap up and around the tree.  Tie the top of the burlap off with twine and place the tree in your vehicle.

After you get the tree home, you can plant it in a planter such as a whiskey barrel or leave in the burlap.  Do not let the roots dry out regardless of which technique you choose.  To prevent this, water the roots just like you would any other plant.

When the day comes to plant your tree, just move it to the hole.  Check the depth and adjust accordingly.  The tree should not be any deeper than it was in the ground.  Once the depth and width is correct, tease the sides of the hole.  This is done by running a rake along the sides of the hole.  One may wonder why this is done and the answer is simple.  Soils that are high in clay tend to contain the roots and not allow them to spread outward.  To prevent this from happening, one scratches the inside of the hole, which creates a surface that roots can grow through.

Now the tree can be placed in the hole.  Fill in with the soil that was prepared earlier in the season.  Water in and add additional soil as needed to create an even surface.

This technique can be used to dig any type of tree, just keep in mind three factors.  One, do not dig a tree so large that you cannot carry or handle it.  Two, do not dig a tree that is so large you do not have the space for it and three, do not dig a tree if you do not have the time to properly take care of it.

Please note:  The picture below is of a Christmas tree my family and I dug when our children were 5 years old.  This year our children (twins) will be 21 years old.  In this short time span, our little Christmas tree that only stood 5 foot tall is a striking 15 feet.



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