How to Choose and Care for a Living Christmas Tree
Decorating, enjoying, and then planting a living Christmas tree can be a wonderful “green” holiday tradition. Living Christmas trees require a little extra attention to acclimate them indoors and plant them afterwards, but the rewards are well worth it.
In addition to the environmental benefits, living trees are safer than cut ones. They pose less of a fire hazard, and the heavy container makes them difficult to knock over – a plus if you have kids or pets!
Choosing a Live Tree
Living Christmas trees include spruce, cedar, sequoia, fir, cypress, and pine. You can find dwarf varieties that will stay small, or ones that grow up to 70’ tall. If you have trouble finding living trees for sale, visit a choose-and-cut lot and ask if you can dig one instead.
Douglas Fir is popular, with soft needles and plenty of branches for ornaments.
Once you’ve decided on a variety, it’s time to pick out a healthy tree. Keep in mind these tips:
- Determine the mature size and shape of the tree, how fast it grows, and any special care information related to your climate.
- Look for healthy, recently-dug trees, with green needles, flexible branches, and live growth buds. Don’t be afraid to ask the seller when the tree was dug, and avoid last-season or “bargain” trees.
- Make sure that container-grown trees are not rootbound.
- With balled-and-burlapped trees, the root ball should be firm, not falling apart. If the soil is rock-hard, the tree probably hasn’t been watered properly.
- Keep in mind that your tree, once watered, will be very heavy – larger varieties can weigh upwards of 200 pounds! Make sure you have help unloading and setting it up. Smaller container-grown trees are usually lighter and easier to handle.
- Pick up your tree by the root ball or container, never by the trunk. Use a hand truck or rolling plant stand to move your tree, and set it down gently.
This Italian Stone Pine (center) will grow to 70’ tall!
Bringing a Tree Indoors
The biggest concern with living Christmas trees is preserving the tree’s winter dormancy. Sudden exposure to warmth, or prolonged time inside, can cause the tree to start growing, which can be fatal if the tree is then returned to the cold outdoors. To ensure a smooth transition:
- Acclimate your tree to warmer temperatures by storing it in an unheated (but not freezing) garage or enclosed porch for 3-4 days before bringing it inside.
- Keep your tree indoors for no more than 7-10 days.
- While indoors, keep the tree in the coolest spot possible, away from heaters, heat ducts, fireplaces, or stoves.
- Keep the tree in bright indirect light but out of direct sunlight.
Blue Spruce has a lovely color, and it’s firm branches hold ornaments well.
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