Hi Umbra,

I’m surprised that in your column on Christmas trees, you didn’t mention the option of living trees, although I know they cannot be subjected to our warm indoor temperatures for very long. Can you discuss the option of living trees, how to treat them indoors, and what to do with them after the holidays?

Christina Gallegos
Treeplanter and Naturalist
Seattle, Wash.

Editor’s Note: Oh, how Umbra would love to answer this question — but she’s been kidnapped! Please donate to Grist by 11:59 p.m. Pacific on Dec. 11, 2007, to secure her safety. The sooner we see 2,000 gifts of any size, the sooner you’ll get the great green advice you’ve come to know and love.

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Editor’s update: Umbra has been released, thanks to your generosity, and was able to pen an answer to this query.

Dearest Christina,

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Yes, but please forgive me if I become a little emotional. Grist thought I should take a few days off to recover from the kidnapping, but I feel the best way to cope is to get right back to work. Two weeks stuck in the media room of that McMansion, with only occasional trips out in an Excursion, weeks of weird meat products delivered on expanded polystyrene by people who thought it was Styrofoam, people doing the dishes with the hot water running full blast, no reference books … it was a hard time. I tell you, those people had better not get a living tree, because they keep the house at 75 degrees.

Indoor trees needle a lot of TLC.

Photo: iStockphoto

Maybe they could get a Norfolk pine houseplant, though. Norfolk Pines are not true pines, but they are pinelike in aspect and make a nice non-hardy houseplant that can be used as a yearly Christmas tree. Norfolks do need high ambient moisture, so in a heated home they would need a humidifier or a little tray of water under, but not touching, their pot.

It’s also feasible to buy a live evergreen tree, with the intent to later plant it in your yard. If you would like to bring a living, rootballed tree into your home for the holidays, please carefully consider where you will later plant the tree and how big it will get. Many evergreen trees grow to 40 or 60 feet and become significant members of the landscape. The tree should be carefully packed into a large pot by a professional at the nursery where you purchase it, be slowly acclimated to the indoors, and spend no more than 10 days indoors before slowly re-acclimating to the outdoors. It cannot tolerate the heat from multiple incandescent light strings, fireplaces, or heat vents. It must be carefully watered according to nursery instructions, and planted outside before the spring. Unless you commit to doing all these caring tasks and more, you may as well have purchased the already-dead tree rather than the living one. Plus, only those with vast tracts of land could do it every year. Mayhap better to have the Norfolk pine.

Oh, and if you live in Portland, Ore. — and maybe other places? let me know, readers — you have the option of renting a live tree.

Happy Hanukkah,