Live Christmas Trees – Selection and Care

Our 2004 Live Tree

Every year at about this time, millions of families are bring trees into their homes.  Some trees are cut fresh, some are plastic and dusted off and snapped together from an old box in the attic… then some are alive with roots and are lucky enough to be planted outside after the holiday celebrations. My families tradition has always been the latter.  I can’t bring myself to kill a functional tree for short celebration on purpose or buy a plastic tree.  With a live tree, not only are we spending about the same amount as we would buying a nice fresh cut tree, but we have a new addition to the garden every year!

So, what is there to know about getting a live Christmas tree?

Make sure you choose a tree that works in your area and you have room for- the species and mature size of the tree will help you figure out where it belongs. Maybe in your garden or maybe on someone else’s land – or a park even. More on species below.  There are some programs and companies that will “rent” live trees and plant them after you use them – like this one.

The tree needs to be slowly acclimated to be inside your house at warm temperatures and have proper care, otherwise it might not survive!  Acclimate your tree to the warm temperatures over the course of about a week:

  • Days 1-3 keep it on the porch or out of winter exposures
  • Days 4-6 it can live in the garage which is a little warmer than outside.  Don’t forget to check it for any pest infestations before bringing it inside!
  • Day 7 When you bring it inside the house give it a day before turning on your lights- those babies are warm!  Try not to place it next to direct heat sources, put it on a tarp, and the rootball in a container – which will help stabilize it (bricks are helpful too) and give you a place to add some water.  Do not fertilize it or feed it in any way as that can push out some new growth.  I also don’t recommend using any pesticides or products.

Don’t keep it in your house for too long – maybe a week (10 days at the most) otherwise its chances of survival drop.  When you are ready to take down the lights and put it outside, be sure to follow the same steps (but backwards) to acclimate it back into cold temperatures.  Then plant it as soon as possible and make sure the tree is well watered and mulched.

So what kinds of trees are out there to buy and from where?

Many good retail nurseries are starting to carry a good selection of live Christmas trees.  I have yet to hear of them being sold at big box stores like Home Depot but in any case you may want to call local retailers ahead of time to find out what they have.  It can save you a ton of time and fuel!

Many species of conifers can get enormous! One of the most popular cut Christmas tree the Frasier Fir (Abies fraserii) gets almost 90 feet tall and 50 feet wide!  There are many species of trees to choose from, but you may be limited to what the nursery stocks.  The fir family is the most common and do well at adapting at being inside for a quick period.  The pine family is also great and have a soft appearance, and the spruces work well but are quite pokey, and I draw the line at hemlocks because they don’t do well with this stressful holiday acclimation.   There are a bunch of conifers that can work well and add a new unique appearance to your holiday tradition every year.

Some of my favorite live Christmas trees:

Slender Hinoki False CypressChamaecyparis obtusa ‘Gracilis’

Horstmann’s Silberlocke Korean FirAbies koreana ‘Horstmann’s Silberlocke’

Serbian SprucePicea omorika

Snow Sprite Deodar Cedar –  Cedrus deodar ‘Snow Sprite’

Weeping Alaskan CedarChamaecyparis nootkatensis ‘Pendula’

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