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A Christmas Tree For Replanting

New Mexico is setting an environmental example while putting a new twist on the nation’s Christmas tree this holiday season.

In the past, Christmas trees displayed at the U.S. Capitol have all been cut. But this year, New Mexico carefully removed a 60-foot spruce tree for transport to Washington, D.C. — complete with a 50-ton root ball. It will be the Capitol’s first living Christmas tree.

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Each year, a different national forest is given the privilege of providing a Christmas tree for the nation’s capital. The honor this year went to New Mexico’s Carson National Forest.

After the holidays, this tree won’t be shredded for composting or hauled to a landfill like most Christmas trees. It will be putting down roots in its new home on the East Coast.

“We’re trying to encourage individuals and communities to switch from cut Christmas trees to living trees,” said Jim Freeman, New Mexico’s Urban Forestry Coordinator. “In New Mexico alone, 250,000 Christmas trees are cut every year, and many of them end up in landfills.”

To create a statewide event, most communities in New Mexico will decorate living Christmas trees this year and transplant them after the holidays, Freeman said. With the help of an Albuquerque radio station, all of these communities will coordinate their lighting ceremonies with the lighting of the national Christmas tree in Washington, D.C. New Mexico also hopes many of its residents will add momentum to the program by using living trees at home.

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By following a few simple precautions, anyone can successfully use and then transplant a living Christmas tree. The tree should not be brought inside and left for a long period of time, Freeman said, because it will break its dormancy and could possibly freeze when taken back outside for planting.

“It’s best to keep the tree outside or in the garage for as long as possible, and then bring it in and decorate it right before Christmas,” he said.

Ideally, the tree should be planted as soon as possible after the holidays. If the ground is frozen, keep the tree in the cold and occasionally water its root ball until the ground thaws, Freeman said. But make sure the roots don’t freeze by adding a layer of burlap cloth or surrounding the root ball with wood chips.

However, if a living Christmas tree doesn’t appeal to you, be sure to find out if your cut tree can be mulched through a community program instead of being hauled to a landfill.

Earth Tip: The United States has only seven percent of the world’s forests, but about 23 percent of the world’s industrial wood is harvested in this country.

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