Living Christmas Tree Care Guide

Take care of your living Christmas tree so that it will thrive when the holiday is over.

Mini Fir Tree in a Green Pot

Living Fir Christmas Tree

With proper care, living Christmas trees can last well after the holidays.

Photo by: Photo by Debbie Wolfe

Photo by Debbie Wolfe

With proper care, living Christmas trees can last well after the holidays.

The idea of bringing a living tree into the home to use as a Christmas tree is tantalizing to gardeners. Using a live tree gives you the flexibility to choose from a much wider array of tree species that simply are not available as harvested trees. If you are thinking of using a live Christmas tree, there are a few things you should consider before proceeding.

First, most trees that are grown to be planted do not necessarily look like "Christmas trees;"their shape is less uniform and their branches may not be as dense or stiff. Second, you will probably need to go with a much smaller tree than you would if you used a cut tree because the weight of the root ball is significant and normally anything much taller than five or six feet is not manageable. Also, it is a good idea to start sourcing your live tree well in advance of the holiday season if you have a particular species in mind because garden centers and nurseries often have a reduced selection of "plantable" trees while they are selling cut Christmas trees. If this sounds doable then a living Christmas tree will work for you.

Once you choose your tree, you will want to bring it in right away...Don't do it! The shorter the duration of its stay indoors, the better. Keep it to five days or fewer in the house so that it does not become completely acclimatized to the conditions inside your home. A longer stay could lead to a break in dormancy which would cause problems when it's time to go back out. If the conditions outside are consistently below forty degrees, transition it into the home by keeping it in an unheated room, basement or garage for a day before bringing it in the house.

Water it well before it comes in so that you can avoid watering while it's inside. The tree's location should be similar to a good location for a fresh cut tree: no direct sunlight, and keep the tree away from heat vents. This will help you avoid watering. If it is inside less than three days, you will almost definitely not have to water it; but if it's going to be more like five days you may have to. Plan ahead. If you think you may have to water it, place it in a saucer that will catch the drain water and elevate the container an inch or so so that it will not sit in the drain water. If and when you water while the tree is indoors, use only a pint at a time and stop watering when it starts to come out the drain holes in the bottom of the container.

Most standard decorations are fine to use on living Christmas trees. The best lights to use are LEDs because they generate far less heat than incandescents, and won't dry out the foliage. Do not spray fake snow, adhesive glitter or any other adhesive sprays on living Christmas trees, as they may clog the pores on the foliage, damaging it. When it's time to take the tree out, transition it the same way you did when you brought it in. Water the tree well as soon as you get it outside. If conditions are really cold, you may want to take it a step further by putting it outside during the day and bringing it into an unheated room for the night, for two or three nights before leaving it outside permanently. If the ground is not frozen, plant the tree as soon as possible after transitioning it outside. If the ground is frozen, plant the tree when the ground thaws and keep it well watered in the meantime.

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