An increasingly popular alternative to a cut or an artificial Christmas tree is a living Christmas tree. Live Christmas trees allow you to have a real tree inside and decorated for a very brief window – one to two weeks – and then move it back outside into colder weather for planting in the ground or a container.
Popular live Christmas trees include Douglas Fir, Blue Spruce, Alberta Spruce, and Lemon Cypress, and there are many others to choose form as well. Living trees are available in a variety of sizes, from tiny top-of-the-counter plants to moderately large and full trees – but be aware that a live tree 6 ft. tall can weigh more than 100 pounds, making it very difficult to move in and out safely.
Tips for a successful living Christmas tree:
Most living Christmas trees cannot be grown for long periods of time inside – they need air movement, brighter light, and a cold dormant period. If they are in too long they think it is spring and want to start growing, leaving them sensitive to sudden cold. Keep your living tree inside for no more than 10 to 14 days.
Select a location for your tree that is not near a heat source such as a fireplace, wood stove, radiant heater, or air vent. Brightly lit locations are preferred.
Decorate with LED lights – safer, cooler, and use less energy – and light ornaments or bows. Avoid using heavy ornaments and hot lights.
When Christmas is over, plant your tree into the landscape right away (or at least by spring). Slow growing trees such as Alberta Spruce could be re-potted into a larger container, then cared for as a potted plant (remember to feed in the spring and water through the summer) to use again next year.
If you don’t have a place right now for a landscape tree, you do still have some living Christmas tree options. Small and slow growing shrubs such as Alberta Spruce, Weithorst Pine, or Red Star Cedar can be kept in pots on porch or patio, repotted and cared for as necessary, and brought in for the holidays for several years.
A few conifer trees can be grown as houseplants year-round: Lemon Cypress can be done inside as a houseplant, or planted outside as a small tree; Norfolk Island Pine and Yew Pine (Podocarpus) are subtropical to tropical conifers that must stay inside. Or consider something a little less traditional – tropical plants such as Fig tree (Ficus) or Dragon tree (Dracaena) make interesting alternative holiday trees, and nice houseplants the rest of the year; so do Mediterranean plants such as Bay Tree (Laurus nobilis), Rosemary (Rosmarinus), or Olives (Olea), which are suitable for either indoor or outdoor growing.