Ready to try something a little different this year? How about a live Christmas tree? Not only are they beautiful, they’re an environmentally friendly alternative to the typical cut (and dead) tree. But live trees take a little more effort and care if you want them to survive the holidays.
Here’s how to ensure your live tree provides not only a beautiful decorative accent for your holiday festivities, but creates a focal point in the garden for many years to come.
Buying a Live Christmas Tree
Unlike a cut tree, with a live tree you’ll want to make sure it will adapt well to your climate. Don’t assume just because it’s sold in the Danbury area that it will grow here. Some good options include:
Colorado Blue Spruce
Live trees are often sold balled and burlapped, although some are potted up or grown in containers. All will work fine as a Christmas tree.
Live trees are very heavy. A six foot tall balled and burlapped tree will weigh as much as 250 pounds. Be sure you have help moving it (a dolly works well).
Preparing Your Live Christmas Tree Before Bringing It Inside
Leave your Christmas tree outside for three or four days in an unheated, sheltered area, such as a garage or enclosed porch. Keep it out of the wind and sun, and don’t let it freeze. This process is necessary to slowly acclimatize the tree to warmer temperatures and avoid a sudden growth spurt when it’s brought inside.
Check the tree for insects and insect egg masses. Some of our friends once found their live tree, carefully placed in the living room, covered with shimmering gossamer threads. It was beautiful but the tiny spiders cascading down the tree were not welcome holiday guests!
Caring For Your Live Christmas Tree
Place the tree in a cool location in your home. Keep it away from heating ducts, fireplaces, or radiators.
Put the tree in a large pot or tub (nothing with drainage holes!). If necessary, stabilize the tree with rocks, bricks, or mulch. If the tree is balled and burlapped, do not remove the burlap or twine/strapping.
Keep the root ball moist but not soggy. Unlike a cut tree, you probably don’t need to water the tree every day. To help keep a balled and burlapped tree moist you can pack mulch around the root ball. Don’t add fertilizer or any nutrients to the water – you don’t want the tree to start growing while it’s inside.
Be careful decorating the tree so you don’t damage any branches. If you use lights, use LED lights that don’t give off heat.
Keep the tree inside for no more than 10 days (some experts suggest only 4 days).
After the Holidays
After Christmas, place the tree back outside in a sheltered location for a few days to allow it to acclimatize to the cooler temperatures.
At this point you can plant the tree. If the ground isn’t frozen, dig a hole about twice as wide as the root ball and 1” – 2” shallower than the root ball is tall. If you were planning ahead, you would have dug the planting hole while temperatures were more moderate and saved the soil in a protected location (like the garage or garden shed) so that it doesn’t freeze (a wheelbarrow works well for this).
If the ground is frozen and you can’t dig a planting hole, place the tree in a protected area and carefully pack straw, bags of leaves, or mulch around the root ball to prevent it from freezing. Make sure you keep the root ball moist until the tree can be planted – check it regularly and water it as needed.
If the tree is in a pot, carefully remove the pot before planting. For a balled and burlapped tree, remove any jute twine around the tree trunk (if the twine is nylon, remove it all), cut off the wire basket (if there is one), and pull back the top 1/3 of the burlap before placing the root ball in the planting hole (keep the root ball intact).
Back fill with the soil you removed from the planting hole and water thoroughly (but don’t flood the planting hole, particularly if the ground is frozen as this can create a ball of ice in the root ball). Mulch heavily to prevent the root ball from freezing.
If you can, stake the tree to stop it from rocking back and forth in the ground over the winter.
Note: Some nurseries recommend spraying your live tree with an antidesiccant or antiwilt product like WiltPruf to minimize needle loss. If you choose to do this, do it while the tree is still outside acclimatizing.
I love the idea of using a live tree for the holidays but if it’s not right for you, here are my best tips for choosing the perfect cut Christmas tree.