How to Decorate with a Live Christmas Tree That You Can Plant Afterwards
There's something about a fresh Christmas tree that feels instantly festive. But once the holidays are over, you're left with a needle-shedding dead plant to toss out. Another option is to decorate with a potted Christmas tree that you can stash your gifts under and then plant out in your yard once you've removed all the tinsel and baubles. Then, your Christmas tree, planted in your yard, will provide beauty for years to come in your landscape. You'll also be offering food and shelter for birds and other wildlife. Timing and plant selection are key to successfully transitioning your Tannenbaum to the outdoors. Here's what you need to know to ensure your tree ends up being the gift that keeps on giving.
How to Choose a Potted Christmas Tree
Choose a tree that will survive the conditions where you live. First, know your Hardiness Zone, and choose a tree or shrub suited to your Zone. For example, if you live in Zone 5, choose a tree with a hardiness rating of 5 or below. A tree that's hardy to Zone 6 will likely not survive winters in your area. Garden centers, florists, and home improvement stores may offer living Christmas trees that aren't hardy in your region. Double-check the plant tag for hardiness.
Mature size and growth habit are also considerations. The plant tag will tell you the mature size of the species. A small yard may not have space for a 30-foot-tall and 15-foot-wide fir tree, but a 12- foot-tall and 4-foot-wide dwarf Alberta spruce might be a perfect fit. Some living Christmas trees have a strong upright growth habit, while others spread out and grow taller. Make sure the mature shape of the tree pairs well with your yard.
Finally, decide where you're going to plant your potted Christmas tree and look at the growing conditions. Is the site in full sun or part shade? Is the soil well-drained or boggy? Is the area exposed to drying north winds? The unique growing conditions of your planting site come together to create a set of criteria that will determine if your living Christmas tree will thrive.
Best Living Christmas Trees by Region
Northeast: Serbian spruce, Norway spruce, white spruce, Fraser fir, balsam fir, and white fir all do well in the cool climate of the Northeast. In far regions of the Northeast, choose a planting location for your potted Christmas tree protected from harsh winter winds.
South: Eastern red cedar, Leyland cypress, Virginia pine, and varieties of Arizona cypress such as 'Blue Ice' and 'Caroline Sapphire' are well-suited to coastal and lowland regions of the areas of the South. These trees tolerate warm climates and a variety of planting sites.
Midwest: Norway spruce, concolor fir, white pine, balsam fir, Black Hills spruce, pyramidal arborvitae, and Canadian hemlock are suitable species of potted Christmas trees to replant in the Midwest. Hardiness varies across the region, so selecting a species that can survive in your Zone is especially important. Heat and humidity can be equally challenging.
Southwest: Arizona cypress, Leyland cypress, pyramidal varieties of juniper, Scotch pine, limber pine, and bristlecone pine all grow well in the hot, dry conditions of the Southwest. These easy-care evergreens are suitable for any soil.
Pacific Northwest: White pine, blue spruce, pyramidal junipers and arborvitaes, and Arizona cypress grow well in the Pacific Northwest. Growing conditions vary across the region, so match your potted Christmas tree selection to your Hardiness Zone and soil.
Go for container-grown. Living Christmas trees are often available in plastic containers at garden centers and home improvement stores. Trees are occasionally sold balled-and-burlapped, too, meaning their root balls are wrapped in burlap instead of placed in a pot. Container-grown plants are easier to handle than balled-and-burlapped plants, which can weigh hundreds of pounds. While balled-and-burlapped plants often have a higher transplant success rate, a container-grown plant will be easier to transport and move in and out of your home.
Check roots. Gently pull the tree out of its container and examine the roots before purchase. A few roots should be visible on the edge of the soil ball. The roots should not be densely circling the soil ball. A dense mat of circling roots indicates the tree has been in the pot too long and will not transplant well into your landscape.
Delay purchase until just before Christmas. Living Christmas trees should be in the house no more than 7 to 10 days. Warm air in homes causes trees to break their winter dormancy, making it impossible to move them back outside without causing injury due to cold.
Caring for Potted Christmas Trees
Transition with care. Slowly transition a living Christmas tree to the indoors in cold weather areas by placing it in an unheated garage or porch for a few days before moving it inside. Keep the soil around the tree moist. The idea is to gradually get your tree used to warmer temperatures because very large temperature swings can stress the plant.
Water regularly. Once the tree is in the house, care for it like you would a houseplant. Water the tree when the top inch of soil is dry. Check soil moisture daily or every other day, as the tree will dry quickly indoors.
Place potted Christmas tree away from heat sources. Be mindful of vents, woodstoves, and fireplaces. These will all cause a living tree to lose moisture quickly. Also, use only LED or low-temperature lights on the tree.
How to Plant a Living Christmas Tree Outside
Remember that living trees should only be kept inside for about a week. After that, move the tree outside as soon as possible. What comes next depends on the weather conditions of where you live.
Cold climates: Don't plant your living tree right after the holiday in Zones 6 and lower. The tree is unlikely to survive the freezing temperatures and drying winter winds. Instead, place it in an unheated garage or porch and water it regularly until it can be planted outside in early spring.
Warm climates: Winter is often a good time to plant new trees in Zones 7 and above. Let your local climate be your guide. If the conditions are icy and harsh after the holidays, delay planting and shelter your tree in a protected outdoor location, such as a garage or porch. Be sure to water it regularly. When the planting conditions improve, plant your new tree and water it well. Spread a 3-inch-thick layer of mulch over the root zone and continue to water it regularly during the first growing season.