If you want a living Christmas tree this year, your first item of business is digging a hole. In late December, chances are good the ground will be frozen, so it’s key to plan ahead: Where will you plant your Christmas tree once Christmas is over?

Local garden centers and nurseries display balsam firs up front, but your living tree can be any evergreen you want. If you’ve got a spot in your yard for a gold-thread chamaecyparis or a blue spruce, ask at the nursery if they have one hiding in the back of the lot and use that for Christmas. Don’t pick one of those huge balled-and-burlaped trees unless you have a lot of strong help at home. They are heavy.

While at the garden center, buy a huge plastic saucer to put under the potted tree. You’ll need to water while the tree while it’s inside, and trust me, you won’t have anything large enough to keep the water from draining onto your floor. (If the tree is small – 4 feet tall at most – you might want to put it on a table.)

Garden experts advise you to keep your living tree indoors for no more than three days. We have kept them inside for a week without a problem, but like many Mainers we keep a cool house and wear a lot of layers.

Test the soil periodically with your finger and water when necessary. But absolutely give the tree a deep soaking before you take it outside, remove it from its pot and put it in your pre-dug hole; you did dig that hole, right? If you have winter mulch – chopped leaves, straw, pine needles – use it around the base of the tree.

The nice thing about a living tree is you can enjoy it for the holiday season and keep enjoying it as long as you own your house – a living reminder of this joyous season.

— TOM ATWELL

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