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applestar
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Sustainable Christmas tree?

I know, I know! Christmas trees are not bonsai! But hear me out... :wink:

I was thinking it's time to go buy a Christmas tree... shell out $50~$60 to have them chop down a perfectly good tree, then a few weeks later, drag its poor carcass out in the garden and toss it by the blueberries to be chopped up for mulch in the spring....

So the wheel started turning, and I started considering B&B and potted trees, but once planted, the darn things grow and grow, and I don't really have the room, and what am I going to do next year? Cut it down? Go buy ANOTHER?

Then I had this crazy :idea: -- if it's kept in a container and maintained at a reasonable size, maybe it can be used year after year >>> The size is decidedly bigger, but the concept is right up you ally. 8)

So, what do you think? Is it do-able? Has anyone done it? According to most websites, potted/B&B trees should be (1) acclimated in a garage or sheltered location before and after bringing indoors (2) kept at no more than 65~68º while indoors and (3) taken back outside (initially to a sheltered location) within 1~2 weeks.

Editing to add: Using the traditional light bulb christmas lights would warm up the tree too much, I think (we once lost a J. maple outside because my DH wrapped holiday lights all over it). I wonder if LED lights stay cool?
Last edited by applestar on Fri Dec 05, 2008 11:24 pm, edited 1 time in total.

thesdbux
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Yes LED do stay cooler as they don't produce light from a heat source like a filament.

The small lights should be ok either type when looking at temp control, just don't use the big 1950's lights.

bali
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I went to the walmart bought a fake $20. pencil tree and I am loving it .

Yep that is a huge price for one week of fun....Not to mention disatvantages of cutting.

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Gnome
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applestar,

You certainly could keep a spruce in a pot and even manage its growth from year to year. The real problem is that you would like to bring a dormant evergreen inside at exactly the wrong moment and then try to move it back outside after a few weeks. I have no experience with such an endeavor. You might spend a fair amount on it only to have it fail anyway.

Norm

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applestar
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Hmm. Gnome, the problem you pointed out is the number one reason I've stayed away from B&B trees in the past. I imagine you've probably thumbed your nose at the idea as well.

But there seems to be a growing trend towards living trees and most Christmas tree farms offer the trees this way as well as the cut trees. There're a number of websites providing detailed instructions too.

I guess I should find out how successful peeps have been buying B&B trees and planting them after Christmas after their services are over. I imagine there are varietal differences -- species that are more likely to succeed, although if I were to try, top of my list right now is the WV native Canaan balsam fir (Abies balsamea var phanerolepis) which some NJ tree farms are calling "New Jersey balsam" :lol:.

Assuming B&B and potted Christmas trees can typically be brought inside for 1~2 weeks (let's say 1 week to be on the safe side) and then put outside to be planted with reasonable care, I guess the first question is whether the trees can recover in their pots to the same extent as when planted in the ground.

Another question is whether the bonsai'd trees, with their reduced root system, are less vigorous and therefore are more likely to be shocked.
(but it seems to me that B&B trees that have been root-pruned probably don't have any more root system than a well grown bonsai with good mass of fibrous roots... plus they would've had their thicker roots underneath chopped off when they were uprooted.)

I tried googling for the idea of bonsai Christmas trees, but have only found a handful of references, none of them very thorough, one unanswered plea for instructions, another a tree that was to be turned into a bonsai in the near future... Though I did find out that there IS a 5 ft+ bonsai category called Imperial Bonsai. :wink:

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Gnome
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applestar,
But there seems to be a growing trend towards living trees and most Christmas tree farms offer the trees this way as well as the cut trees
I guess the first question is whether the trees can recover in their pots to the same extent as when planted in the ground.
Well you would not want to actually disturb the roots at this time of year. A B&B tree is planted out without disturbing them but a potted tree would be a different situation. The soil that works in the ground has been found to be inappropriate for pot culture so a change of soil would take place next spring.

Another concern is that while a one time stress (being indoors once) may be acceptable a repeated stress (on a yearly basis) may eventually weaken the tree to point that it will die in a few years.
Though I did find out that there IS a 5 ft+ bonsai category called Imperial Bonsai.
How's this for a bonsai pot!
https://www.kensworldofbonsai.com/
Larger pots like this are not inexpensive.

I'll take a look around and see if I can turn up any information for you.

Norm

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applestar
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How's this for a bonsai pot!
https://www.kensworldofbonsai.com/
:lol: :lol: :lol: HA! :lol: :lol: :lol: (That photo is HILARIOUS!! You made my day!)
Great! I have a source for the dress pot! :wink:
Wouldn't the bonsai Christmas tree look lovely planted in that in a Yose-ue with some Christmas fern and Christmas/Lenten Rose? (I could just picture you :roll:) :lol: :>
... but I thought the idea was to *save* money and be :mrgreen:
Seriously, though, what would be the carbon footprint of shipping that monster :eek:)

About disturbing roots, I remember one of the tree farm sites mentioning that they dig the trees for B&B in Oct/Nov. It's not a good idea to even slip-pot at this time of the year? Better to bury pot and all on a flagstone and mulch, maybe? But you wouldn't want to bury something like that expensive pot above outside in winter would you? (It's been going down to mid-teens lately) Maybe a stock tank or a salvage yard bathtub... I was actually thinking a shallower wooden 1/3 barrel.... (Sorry, just thinking out loud -- no need to reply on every point unless you feel like it :wink:)
I'll take a look around and see if I can turn up any information for you.
Thanks, Gnome! I'd appreciate that very much.:D

p.s. BTW I found THIS website. Conditions are different in California, but interesting, hmm? https://www.thelivingchristmascompany.com/
Also, this brochure includes a list of Christmas tree-like species more suited to container culture as well as best care that might be adapted for our purpose:
https://www.portlandnursery.com/plants/docs/trees/Trees_Living_Christmas.pdf

bali
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Looks like he has gone to pot.

b

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Gnome
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applestar,
About disturbing roots, I remember one of the tree farm sites mentioning that they dig the trees for B&B in Oct/Nov. It's not a good idea to even slip-pot at this time of the year?
Yes you can slip pot it now but it is the wrong season to disturb the roots as in a 'proper re-potting'

You may not be aware of it but one of the basic concepts of bonsai culture is that a soil that would be fine for a tree in the ground is entirely inappropriate for a potted tree. See [url=https://www.evergreengardenworks.com/earthpot.htm]here[/url] and [url=https://www.evergreengardenworks.com/soils.htm]here[/url] for more information.

So you can see the importance of a granular, free draining soil. The only way to accomplish that is to completely remove the old soil from the root-ball, not something to do in the dead of winter. You will need to locate an appropriate pot that will be sturdy enough to last for years. Traditionally bonsai pots have rather large drainage holes that are covered with screen of an appropriate size. They also have feet to facilitate drainage.

I recently had houseplant that was ailing despite being in good soil and upon inspection discovered that the lack of feet in my pot allowed the drainage holes to become plugged over time.

This might be a good time to mention that when I use the term soil there is actually no soil in bonsai soil, medium would probably be a better term. We have a sticky at the top of the forum that describes the qualities of a good medium and links to some good articles. You should have a look at it when you get the chance.

Norm

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Lets not forget, potting aside, how it is we keep bonsai growing in the same sized container for many years. A "Christmas tree" in the traditional pyramidal form, at, say, 6 feet high would require a VERY large pot, one that, when filled, would be impossible for your single person average person to move. I would think that something on the order of a 3' cube would be conservatively small for such a tree to be sustainable. You need the root system to support the leaf growth, as above, so below, an ancient pagan saying, really holds true. If you minimize the root system, you beg for the lush pyramid of needles to be minimized as well. On must support the other and vice versa. So, let's say you get this plantable tree and put it in a pot, rootball and soil intact. Then, you get this 200+ pound potted plant outside. What then? How will you manage its size so that it can be brought in year after year? Prune it with hedge trimmer? If so, I'd suggest something a little less tough than your conventional Fir or Spruce, maybe a "softer" tree like an Arborvitae or something like that, one that tolerates that hard type of pruning better, a "hedge" evergreen. Even still, you'll run into the problems of bringing it indoors at the complete wrong time. So, you'd really want to lug the 200+ pund monster in only a day before Christmas, because you're going to have to dismantle it and lug it back out again the day after. I'm not being unrealistic here either, if anything, I'm being generous, I'm giving you the "chance" you're looking for where everyone else has already told you what is in all likelihood the truth, that such an endeavor is bound to fail.

Really want a "sustainable" tree? Get an artificial tree and use some pine candles or something for scent. Really.

bali
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Your probabaly correct.

I been using phoneys......Live trees too much work and costly as well.

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applestar
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Hi Gnome!
Ever since I got the idea that I might like to try bonsai, I've been reading like mad. I'm also starting to recognize that just about the first advice you give to any new initiate is the "bonsai soil lecture" :wink: So, yep! -- I'm familiar with both links you've posted. I consider this winter my "research" period, and actually get my hands dirty (as it were) in early spring.

For this project, the way I was thinking it was to get a B&B tree, plant it on a solid (but draining!) surface after the holidays, then pot it up in the spring. (My question about slip-potting was for future care/if I should get a potted tree) HOWEVER, the ground's pretty much frozen around here -- 20º this morning. Only possibility for planting a tree is to put it in one of my compost bins (trenched about 12" below soil level and filled with sticks) which happens to be empty since I started a new sheet mulch garden. For covering the root ball, I have a mound of "decent" topsoil from behind the compost bins that's been kept under covers and hasn't frozen yet as well as a sand pit full of sand, and I can mulch with leaves and straw. But... I dunno, it's been so cold that I'm getting less and less ambitious about braving the weather and hauling a B&B tree out there to plant! :roll: :lol:

I must say I'm a bit disappointed that no one else seems to have an opinion on this project -- unless the reality is that you are the only one kind enough to even consider it as a remote possibility, Gnome! Maybe I'm being naive about what to the experts are obvious difficulties. :oops:

BTW I've come up with Eastern Hemlock as another possibility, although that one won't tolerate being dried out, it's very tolerant of shade. So far, neither of my picks are considered suitable for bonsai. :( :? But really, as far as I can tell, the "suitability" has more to do with traditional/smaller bonsai forms and need for short internodes and "dwarfing" of the leaves, neither of which really applies here. I'm looking more for soil moisture/environmental tolerance, ability to take hard pruning, and resilience to (i.e. ability to recover from) shock.

I might not rush into this -- selection of trees are limited right now and at a premium. For the purpose of this project (i.e. long term) I don't HAVE to have a proper CHRISTMAS tree (i.e. traditional species nor ones that are sheared to "perfection" -- did you know it takes absolute minimum 6 yrs but more like 8 yrs to grow a marketable Christmas tree?) -- no doubt I'll need to do a lot of pinching, pruning, or shearing (bonsai peeps might wince here) to keep it down to size... and I need to do more research on that subject before I get to it.

In the end, if no one else has done it, I can only try, and no doubt I WILL make many newbie mistakes, so I would appreciate any input/advice. :wink:

p.s. kdodds, you were posting you're reality-check while I was composing my long-winded post. Thanks! So let's say we're talking somewhere around a 5' tree, how deep and wide would you say the root ball would have to be? (Not quite giving up yet!) What you said about choosing a different plant species -- I'm also reaching that conclusion and have widened my search. As for the time span that this "dormant" tree can be kept indoors -- so far, the most believable live Christmas tree care instructions suggest 1 week spent indoors with 4~7 days before and after, acclimating in "sheltered location like unheated garage or porch" -- I would add a period of time completely outdoors but in a sheltered spot like the brick patio on SE side of my house, most often suggested is "up to" 2 wks, and one that's seems hardly likely, 3 wks (this one is a live tree rental co. and will not return deposit if the tree "has not been well-cared for") The longer term places are in zones like 8 or 9, so maybe that makes a difference too. Here in zone 6, it's been solid winter with temps plummeting as low as mid-teens during the night.

I got rid of my PCV tree for all the associated negative reasons long ago (I dumped it because I couldn't, in conscience, donate it, but somebody trash picked it anyway). Maybe I can manage to grow two... three is a bit of a stretch... and rotate them. :mrgreen:

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I don't think the difference between a 5 and 6 foot tree is going to be all that much in terms of an appropriate pot, it's still going to require something large and incredibly difficult to manage. You're close enough, have you ever been to NYC? Have you ever walked past one of those office buildings where they have exactly what you're describing, a sustainable Christmas tree in a pot? Conservatively, I'd say the five footer would need something on the order of a 30" cube, but that's being very generous. And, you're still going to need a few people to move it. It's not just the weight, but the unwieldy bullk of the thing. In the city, they use forklifts, albeit they also use cement planters. Still, even when plant rental companies (one of our clients does this) move such large plants, they at least use a hand truck, and possibly two or three people, depending on the plant's size and whether or not there are stairs involved. Have you considered going smaller? Like 3-4 feet? This would approach a bonsai "emperor" size range. From seeing it, these trees still require at least two people to manage comfortably, but at least it's reasonably doable.

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uzeyr
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hey guys
u know i went to the garden centre day before and was soo shocked to see that large amount of live trees chopped down it made me kinda sad :cry: they had such thick trunks they really could have been turned into bonsai, well not every tree is meant to live ......in kenya they used plastic ones oh well :D

bali
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sOME ONE HAS TO STAND UP FOR THE TREES.....



GO GIRL..........

YOUR ALL HEART

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applestar
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kdodds wrote:I don't think the difference between a 5 and 6 foot tree is going to be all that much in terms of an appropriate pot, ... Conservatively, I'd say the five footer would need something on the order of a 30" cube, but that's being very generous.
Huh? Let's just set aside the viability of this project and my inexperience for a moment. What you describe sounds more like an ordinary containerized tree. Assuming full "bonsai" style root pruning, wouldn't a pot be more somewhere in the order of 8:5 ratio (tree ht:pot length) and 10:1 (tree ht:pot depth)? (I've been measuring various images of upright conifer bonsai... :wink:)
Hopefully, for a 5 ft tree, that would bring the pot size down to around 3ft L x 10" D oblong pot, OR somewhere around 24" diam x 10"D round pot when finished.

In fact, I'm leaning towards a B&B tree rather than a containerized. This way, initial root pruning would be already done, and my first year challenge would be to pot it up in proper planting medium (having first removed all existing soil :D) and keep the tree alive. Thereafter, I would imagine the depth of the root ball would need to be reduced at each late winter/early spring repotting until the desired shallowness is achieved. If it's an ultra hardy species (like hardy to zone 3) I wonder if it could be root pruned/tip sheared again around late August as well here in zone 6? I'm thinking hardiness to least zone 4 at any rate.

So far, I've found a 15 gal rubber feed pan (26" diam x 9.75"D) for $20 (those puppies are heavy though, and floppy/flexible which maybe a problem. On the other hand, a couple of old gratings from a kettle grill might provide a support structure inside and, supported on brickes, a draining surface for the pot (with holes in the bottom of the pan of course). 15 gal wash tub ($32) is a bit small at 21.5" diam x 10.25"D and 17 gal wash tub ($36) is just a bit smaller at 23.75" diam x 10.75"D.

Also I was watching a youtube video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yEYQyCW9Gnw and I swear his bonsai is planted in a baby bathtub! I rushed out and measured the one I have in the garage 8) and it's about 20" long, which, by my calculations, is good for a 32" tall tree. (Yes, yes, HIS tree is 24" tall at most)

:lol: What can I say, this is the way I treat all new ideas :roll: :wink:

p.s. This is a really interesting read although the subject matter is deciduous trees -- this is giving me a new insight re: B&B vs. containerized
https://www.ces.ncsu.edu/fletcher/programs/nursery/metria/metria03/m32.pdf
Here's the abstract -- download the pdf or google for it to read the rest of the paper:
NURSERY PRODUCTION OF TREES IN CONTAINERS
by William Flemer III
Princeton Nurseries
P.O. Box 191
Princeton, NJ 08540
ABSTRACT. --The possibility of growing sizeable shade trees
(1%" and over in caliper) in containers is exciting to
both arborists and nurserymen.
Advantages include reduc-
tion in transplant shock, ease of retail storage, exten-
sion of the planting and shipping seasons, and less need
for nursery space.
However, problems include difficulty
in overwintering in northern climates, root girdling,
potbound trees, and the high cost of growing mix and
containers.
The suggested best method for cold-weather
zones is to re-establish large trees in containers.
Last edited by applestar on Thu Dec 11, 2008 10:12 pm, edited 2 times in total.

kdodds
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Didn't I mention previously that, if you want a nice, full, traditional type of Christmas tree that you'll need the root system to support that much more lush (compared to traditional bonsai) growth. As above, so below. Root pruning, a la bonsai, without also pruning branches, twigs, leaves, often results in the demise of the tree. You'd really not want to mess much with the root ball on a "full" sized tree. Remember, although height may seem not that much different, you're talking about a much greater above ground biomass that needs a root system to support it.

thesdbux
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I say if this isn't gonna cost tooooo much....

EXPERIMENT!!!

Oh and pics, lots of pics. Document everything.

kdodds
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Oh, definitely. Don't mistake my cautions for discouragement, as they're meant more towards making you aware of the problems and pitfalls before they occur so that they become something for which you can plan a course of action rather than obstacles to take you by suprise. I don't think I'd start with a 5 or 6 foot tree here, though. The expense of buying a living tree at that size, and if it should fail, another, and another, should quickly become evident why starting smaller is better. I'd start with something in the 2 foot range, much more affordable, younger, and possibly easier to adapt to container living. If you can get several, even better.

Oh, almost forgot (again). Bonsai pots are more aesthetically sized than sized for purpose. Actually, tree height:pot length ratio would vary, depending on the style of the tree. For an upright, conical tree, the length of the pot would be much smaller, in comparison to the height of the tree, versus, say, a windswept, raft, or slanted style. The length of the pot, in most upright cases, should be slightly smaller than the overall width of the tree, give or take. There ARE functional reasons for this, but the aesthetics are more important. As for pot height, this is the first time I have read (in your post) of pot height being a ratio compared to tree height. Pot height is actually a ratio of trunk diameter, but also dependent upon style of bonsai. Again, an upright would have a smaller ratio than, say, a semi cascade.

You're not talking about sustaining a bonsai, in aesthetics or in function, so pot ratios/sizes that are traditional for bonsai do not apply here. What you ARE talking about is keeping a containerized tree, and so, traditional container sizes for that purpose DO apply.

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