Ask a Master Gardener: How do I care for a living Christmas tree?

COURTESY TO THE BELLINGHAM HERALDNovember 27, 2013 

Question: I want to buy a live Christmas tree and after the holidays plant it in my yard. Do you have any pointers?

Answer: That's a great idea, as well as a good money-saver. Cut trees can come with high prices. If you have the space to plant a tree, it will grow into a beautiful addition to your yard.

There are a couple of things to think about. The potted evergreen trees used as Christmas trees all do best in cool environments. They will not tolerate sustained artificial heat. Certainly at night you can turn the heat down. And try to keep the tree lights off as much as possible. It's amazing how much heat they generate.

You should not expect your live tree to stay indoors for more than a week, tops. Make sure it's well watered. Keep your house as cool as you can stand it, and keep the tree away from heat vents and fireplaces. If at some point you notice any yellowing of the tree's needles, take pity on the tree and move it outside.

One rather elegant solution to the challenge of a live Christmas tree inside is to have it on a covered porch, where all the decorations and lights can be enjoyed through the windows and the tree can have the coolness it needs.

Q: I'm making an early New Year's resolution: introducing the love of gardening to my kids. What are some good ways to do this?

A: First, know that much of the love of gardening seems to spontaneously happen, at different times for different people. So don't feel badly if you don't make instant converts of your kids.

The key is to make it fun. Obviously, weeding is not fun for kids. So don't set them to that chore in the garden. Instead, here are a few things that have been proven to turn kids onto gardening in either a big way or in a small way, depending on the kid.

If planting veggies with kids, pick sure-fire plants. Some of those are radishes, lettuce, beans, onions, potatoes, and greens. Take your kids shopping for seeds, and use that as an educational outing, showing them new vegetables they may never have seen. It also serves to teach them that all veggies grow in the ground (well, there is hydroponic growing).

Be sure to involve the kids in planning the garden. Maybe even give each child her or his "own" responsibility, say the planning and care of the beans. To the extent possible, let them pick which vegetable they want. It builds buy-in.

Get a book on vegetable gardening with simple language and lots of pictures. Good information, good practice reading! Have kids research recipes to use the veggies they'll grow. Talk to them about some of the possibilities, and stretch the gardening into cooking lessons.

Build and plant with your kids a bean teepee. Tie three 6-foot stakes together at the top, spread them out to form a large space in the middle. Push each stake into the ground firmly. Encircle the stakes with string about every 6 inches. This will allow the beans to attach as they grow up. At the base of each of the stakes, plant six to eight climbing bean seeds. Scarlet runner beans are a good bet. Another good bet: Your kids will love the hide-away that the bean plants will create. And the bonus will be you can eat the beans.

My last suggestion is to take advantage of the local summer gardening programs for kids. There are several, and one of the favorites goes on at Hovander Homestead Park in the Children's Garden. Run by educators and Master Gardeners, the program is as popular with the accompanying parents as it is with the children. Kids learn every aspect of gardening, including such fun and educational activities as making scarecrows and visiting a food bank.

ABOUT THIS COLUMN

Master Gardener Kathleen Bander is a resident of Bellingham and life-long gardener. For more information on Whatcom County Master Gardeners, go online to whatcom.wsu.edu/ch/mg.html. Ask a Master Gardener will appear in The Bellingham Herald monthly through winter. If you have a gardening question you'd like answered in the column, please email it to newsroom@bellinghamherald.com.

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