An increasingly popular alternative to a cut or an artificial Christmas tree is a potted, or 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 growing in a container.
Which Trees are Best?
Popular live Christmas trees include Douglas Fir, Blue Spruce, Alberta Spruce, and Lemon Cypress, and there are many others to choose from as well. Living trees are available in a variety of sizes, from tiny top-of-the-counter plants to moderately large, full trees. But be aware that a live tree that is 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 Experience
Keep your living tree inside for no more than 10 to 14 days
- Most living Christmas trees cannot be grown for long periods of time inside. These trees need air movement, brighter light, and a cold dormant period. If they are inside for too long they think it is spring and want to start growing, leaving them sensitive to sudden cold.
Select a location for your tree that is not near a heat source
- For the tree to maintain it’s health beyond Christmas, it needs to stay on the cool side. Avoid placing the tree next to a fireplace, wood stove, radiant heater, or air vent. Brightly lit locations are preferred.
Water your living Christmas tree every 2-3 days while it is inside
- Make sure you have a saucer underneath the pot to protect the floor or furnishings. One of the best ways to water is to simply put a layer of ice cubes on top of the soil of the pot, and let them melt. The ice cubes will also help to keep your tree a little cooler. A few cubes or half a tray will water smaller trees, but a large tree should get 2-3 trays of ice cubes every watering.
Decorate with LED lights
- These kind of lights are safer, cooler, and use less energy. Hang lightweight ornaments or bows as well, but try to avoid hanging 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 fertilize in the spring, and water through the summer) to use again as a living Christmas tree next year.
Small Outdoor Tree Options
There are still living Christmas tree options even if you don’t have a place right now for a large landscape tree.
Small and slow growing shrubs such as Alberta Spruce, Wiethorst Pine, or Red Star Cedar can be kept in pots on a porch or patio, repotted and cared for as necessary, and brought in for the holidays for several years.
Houseplant Live Christmas Tree Varieties
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.
- Mediterranean plants such as Bay Tree (Laurus nobilis), Rosemary (Rosmarinus), or Olives (Olea), are also suitable for either indoor or outdoor growing.