Local gardening expert Ricky Kemery shares tips to keep a live Christmas tree healthy through the holiday

Live or artificial? That’s the Christmas tree debate every year.

There are positives for both.

One positive for artificial trees is they don’t really need any maintenance once you put them up.

Ricky Kemery, WANE gardening expert, says the trend now is to have both kinds of trees.

Kemery shared his knowledge and tips to how to keep live trees – cut or potted – beautiful throughout the season.

Make sure needles aren’t dropping off in droves

“The first thing to do is to check out the tree to make sure needles aren’t dropping off in droves,” Kemery said, “and make sure the stem is freshly cut before you take it home.

“That’s kind of important because you want the vascular system of the live tree to be active and not clogged up,” Kemery said. “It’s best to get the tree into your home and ‘hooked up’ as fast as you can. If you can’t do that right away, it’s important to store the tree in a cool place with water.” An unheated garage or outbuilding will do.

Once the tree comes inside, it’s important to get it set up quickly and to avoid heating vents or any source of heat, Kemery said.

Trees last for up to 10 days, so avoid heat sources

“The general rule is the tree will stay fresh for about 10 days. The tree is going to use at least a gallon of water a day,” Kemery said. “So you cannot allow the tree well to dry out. That clogs up the pipes in the tree and the tree won’t take up water and it will dry out quickly.”

Kemery recommends LED lights that use less energy and generate less heat.” Retro lights use far more energy, generate more heat and ultimately dry out the tree more quickly.

Potted trees kept outdoors can be bought locally or even ordered online, Kemery said.

To plant a potted tree after the holidays, dig your hole before

The key to planting a live tree outdoors after the holidays is pre-planning. Dig a hole twice the size of the base and try to choose a location that will allow full sun and good drainage that most evergreens need. Kemery recommends a Douglas fir as one kind of evergreen that does well here.

Once the hole is dug, Kemery recommends filling the hole with leaves to insulate it, covering it and then, planting the tree carefully after the season is over. Save the backfill and use that so the tree doesn’t freeze.

Bringing a live potted tree inside, it’s best to remember its time is limited. Place the tree in a place in a cool spot where it won’t dry out. The tree will need lots of water, but it’s important to make sure the soil is moist but not sitting in water, Kemery said.

Although the tree needs some light, it’s best to be careful of a lot of sunlight, especially in a west or south window where it could be “baked,” Kemery said. Best might be indirect light from a west or south window,

Kemery says live trees are a link to the past and offer nostalgia while artificial trees aren’t considered sustainable because of the products used to produce it.

But artificial trees tend to be used over a longer period. Live trees, for the most part, are grown on tree farms and are a crop, so people shouldn’t feel guilty if they buy one, Kemery said.