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Some may think this is an unusual question, but some don’t have Christmas tree farms. They probably don’t have real Christmas trees in their houses, either. If they did, they would wonder if ericaceous compost would keep Christmas trees alive longer. So, do Christmas trees need ericaceous compost?
Christmas trees do not need ericaceous compost to thrive. They like slightly acidic soil, which some ericaceous compost is good for, but it can easily make the soil mixture too acidic. Still, ericaceous compost can provide the soil structure that conifers like.
There’s a little more to it, of course. Keep reading to discover how the trees that are the favorites for Christmas time prefer to have their soil and whether using compost after being cut is a good idea.
Do Christmas Trees Grow Best in Ericaceous Compost?
Christmas trees are not a single tree. Firs, Cedars, Spruces, Pines, and Cypruses all make up the Christmas tree category. Thankfully, we can narrow our research regarding Christmas tree care by the fact that all of these trees are conifers.
Conifer trees can certainly thrive with some ericaceous compost! Ericaceous compost satisfies all of the needs that conifers have, which we will get into in the sections below. You don’t want to use too much ericaceous compost because too much can make the soil too acidic for even the conifers to handle.
Too much acidity will prevent the confer roots from absorbing some very important nutrients. However, with conifers, this isn’t too much of a risk because they aren’t “heavy feeders.” That is, they don’t rely on a surplus of nutrients in their soil, such as,
What is infinitely more important for Christmas trees is the consistency and pH of their soil.
What pH do Christmas Trees Need?
Even though conifers don’t need to be well-fed, they still don’t like being in the wrong kind of mix that prevents them from absorbing what nutrients they do have in the soil. They like soil that’s at the right pH level for them, much like any other plant, tree, or shrub.
Conifers like some acidity, but not too much acidity. They love soil that has a pH level between 5.5 and 6.5. If you’re not familiar, pH is measured on a scale ranging from 0-14. 0-6 is acidic, 7 is neutral, and 8-14 is alkaline.
It’s surprising how much conifers prefer slightly acidic or neutral soil, considering their needles are used to make compost more acidic. Anyway, ericaceous compost is much more acidic, usually ranging between 4 and 5.
If there’s too much ericaceous compost, the conifer’s ability to absorb water could be affected as well as its ability to suck up the nutrients it does want. Certain nutrients are only made soluble for conifers at higher pH levels, like magnesium.
The perfect pH level that allows Christmas trees to absorb all the nutrients they want is between 5.5 and 6.5.
What Kind of Soil will Christmas Trees Grow in?
What about the rest of the soil conditions? Well, conifers don’t like soil that’s too compact, too dry, unfertile, or retains too much water. No, they prefer loamy, dark, well-draining soils.
Loamy soils have three equal parts of sand, silt, and clay, which allows them to provide enough air in the mix so that the roots can grow freely and be compact enough to retain some moisture.
Dark soils are nutrient-rich because they’re full of decomposing organic matter. But we just said conifers don’t care about having an abundance of nutrients. What gives? The Christmas trees don’t like the dark soil for its wealth of minerals but for its spongy consistency.
If you look at a sponge, there are different-sized holes throughout the structure. The small holes aid the soil in having just enough moisture retained for the roots, while the large holes drain the excess.
Ericaceous compost, when it’s fresh, has large particles from the various organic components breaking down. That keeps the mixture spongy for a while. However, all compost particles eventually get smaller and smaller.
If there’s too much compost, all of the finer particles will compact together and prevent excess water from draining.
Can You Put Ericaceous Compost in a Tub with Christmas Trees?
Let’s not forget why these conifers are so highly sought after! When Christmas tree farms sell their trees, many will make the trees more expensive as Christmas gets closer before discounting them again because they’re about to die.
However, if you buy a tree too early, it can show its age before Christmas even arrives. So, this begs the question: can ericaceous compost help make Christmas trees last longer? Can you put the compost in the tub with the tree?
If you look online, there are a number of ways to squeeze out your conifer’s life for as long as humanly possible, and planting the tree in the soil is not one of them. However, you might see a suggestion that states, “add nutrients to the tree’s water.”
The only difference between the suggestion and planting the tree is that you’re just adding water to the nutrients.
So, yes, ericaceous compost has the potential to extend your Christmas tree’s life, but be sure to get the tree in the tub first.
How Much Ericaceous Compost Should I Use?
If conifers can be so tricky to please, how much ericaceous compost should you use? Should you use it at all? You can certainly still use it. Usually, the recommended amount of ericaceous compost would be a 2-4” layer mixed with the existing soil.
However, since you don’t want to drop the pH level too much, the amount will depend on what the current soil mix’s pH is. It also depends on the acidic elements that are in the compost because each is absorbed at different rates based on the current pH.
That’s a science that is way too complicated to get into here, but we would recommend starting with only a 1” layer and mixing it in. After giving it time to affect the soil, test the pH level again and repeat the process until you have a pH between 5.5 and 6.5.
Will Christmas Trees Grow Without Ericaceous Compost?
Do Other Compost Mixes Work for Christmas Trees? Ericaceous compost is very good for Conifers because it doesn’t turn the soil alkaline. However, other composts work too and they aren’t as severely acidic as ericaceous compost is.
Conifer gardeners prefer fertilizers that are high in nitrogen. Of all the essential minerals usually composing fertilizers, nitrogen is the most important for Christmas trees. There are slow-release commercial fertilizers that are developed for conifers.
Look for tree fertilizer with the N-P-K ratios 12-4-8 or 16-4-8. Here is a video to learn how to make your own fertilizer.
The best time to fertilize your conifer, if it’s still in the ground, is in late fall, as soon as the first frost passes but before the ground freezes over.
So Christmas trees can be a little trickier than one might expect. Yes, they can be a little picky. They probably know they’re special. Don’t feel discouraged if you already have ericaceous compost ready to go.
Like we said, so long as you don’t use too much and bring the pH level down to a 4 or 3, your tree can be happy. And when the Christmas season is all done for the year, your tree also makes an excellent compost base.
- Is a Christmas Tree Good for Mulch or the Compost Pile? | Davey Blog
- Christmas Trees for Sale – Buying & Growing Guide – Trees.com
- Best Soil for Conifers | American Conifer Society
- Ideal Soil For Dwarf Conifers | Conifer Gardening
- Fertilizing Conifers | American Conifer Society
- 8 Ways to Make Your Christmas Tree Last Longer (premeditatedleftovers.com)
- Fertilizing Conifers | American Conifer Society
- The Best Fertilizer Stakes for a Conifer (sfgate.com)