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Caring for a Potted Christmas Tree in Spain

We continue to hear from You Bet Your Gardeners far and wide!

Q. Roy in Extremadura, Spain; {quote} "specifically the area known as Don Benito, which is Tomato country", writes: "Ours is a pretty mild climate (palm trees survive), but we do get a few below-freezing nights and frosty mornings. It's very windy in the winter and hot, hot in the summer with blazing sun and highs of 90 to 100 degrees F. during heat waves.

"We recently bought our third live potted Christmas tree. The first one lasted us for five or six years in its pot! The second one (the most recent) only lasted one year, but that summer was super-hot and dry, and we probably watered too little. I am aware that it can be tough to keep a potted tree alive, and want to know what I can do to give this one the best shot at surviving.

"It is approximately two-and-a-half meters tall (about seven feet) and is in a black plastic pot about 50 centimeters in diameter. (That's about a foot and a half over here.) It is HEAVY, and was hell to move around when it came inside for the holiday and then went back out again. Here are my basic questions about how to try and keep this baby alive.

"What would be best? Full sun? Part shade? A little sun?How much water? (The soil it's in drains super-fast!)Should we transplant it to a larger pot? (No idea how we might do that!)

"It would make it worth our while to get two or three years out of it; otherwise at 142 euros, it is a huge expense for one year." (That's about 175 bucks American.)

He continues: "Your show has influenced and helped me with my garden a great deal. We sold our tiller! (In Spanish it is called a mechanical mule!) and now have raised beds. All due to YOUR show! I listen to your podcast weekly while I'm out mowing leaves to shred them. We even bought a new "mulching" lawn mower yesterday to be able to leave our clippings on the lawn. So THANK YOU! And any advice about this monster tree would be appreciated!"

A. Before I had time to ask, Roy followed up with the name of the tree: "an ABIES NORDMANNIANA", which Wiki tells me is also known as 'The Caucasian Fir'; a tree native to cool wet mountains around the Black Sea in Turkey and Russia. Its official USDA Zone is between four and six (meaning Pennsylvania and North); and although it is felt to be an excellent Christmas tree, is not recommended for warm climes, much less hot and dry summers. In its native clime it gets 40 inches of rain a year.

The region of Don Benito (from where you could walk to Portugal) is at a slight elevation (around half a mile) and actually gets a decent amount of rain, most of it in September and none of it in July or August; but all told, a respectable 23 inches a year on average.

First, I want you to repot this puppy whether you like it or not. Get a pot (black plastic is fine, because we're going to paint it) about twice the size of the original, but because you say the water runs out quickly, we're going to fill in the extra spaces with compost as opposed to potting soil, as it will hold moisture much better. I strongly recommend you place this big pot on a hand truck, which will allow you to move it around MUCH more easily. (My Diane taught me that trick when she moved my giant Birds of Paradise inside for the winter.)

To repot, deceive some of your friends into coming over, roll the old pot on it.

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