Why choose a living Christmas tree?
A living Christmas tree is not only an ecologically better choice for the holidays than a cut or artificial tree, it’s also more fragrant, and will live in your yard for years to come. According to The Nature Conservancy, about 10 million artificial trees are purchased each season in the US alone. About 90% of these artificial trees are shipped across from China, resulting in increased carbon emissions and use of resources. And, due to the materials used to manufacture them, most artificial trees are not recyclable and end up in local landfills.
There are some issues with live christmas trees, though, that should be taken into consideration. A living Christmas tree is often more expensive than cut trees, they should only be indoors for a week, they are heavy so can be difficult to maneuver, and planting a living Christmas tree in most areas of the country needs some advance planning.
Choosing your living Christmas tree
As with any holiday tree purchase, you must first decide on the size of the tree. Measure the ceiling height in the room where you plan to put it. When calculating the tree size, be sure to include the size of the tree plus its root ball, as well as the height of any ornament on top and whether the container sits off the ground.
As you’ll be planting the tree after the holidays, check the tree’s projected growth to make sure it will be correct for its space in the yard.
There are a number of classic tree options to choose from, but check with your local nursery to be sure that you choose a species best suited to your climate.
Recommended live X-mas trees
Some recommended trees include:
- Fraser firs are very popular, as they have sturdy branches that can handle heavy ornaments, a nice scent, and good needle retention;
- Leyland Cypress has soft, vibrant green branches, with a natural pyramid shape;
- Balsam Fir is native to the Northeast, and features a cone shape with short, dense branches, dark green needles and a pleasing aroma; and
- Arizona cypress is native to the Southwest and produces small, gray to silver needles on thin branches.
How to care before & during the holiday season
If you plan to transport your tree from the nursery to your home yourself, follow these simple steps: don’t lift the tree by the trunk alone, as this can cause root damage; wrap the tree lightly with twine to avoid branches breaking while on the road; once on the ground at home, remove the twine and any protective covering and shake the branches so loose needles fall.
If possible, leave the tree outside in a protected area – such as an enclosed porch or garage – until a few days before Christmas. This allows it to acclimate to warmer temperatures. To make your tree last as long as possible, you can spray it with an anti-desiccant, such as Wilt Pruf, Vapor Gard or Cloud Cover. These natural products cover the tree’s needles with a thin layer of organic biodegradable oil to reduce moisture loss, thus preventing them from drying out too quickly.
Choose a container for your tree that is waterproof, or fitted with a liner to prevent leaks. Position your living Christmas tree inside the house away from direct heat sources, such as fireplaces or heating vents. The tree should be watered daily, keeping the roots moist, but should not be in standing water.
It’s recommended that the tree’s total indoor stay should be no more than 10 days. Depending on your Plant Hardiness Zone, the tree can be moved into an outdoor building until it’s time to plant, or planted immediately.
How to plant & care for living Christmas tree
When you are ready to plant your living Christmas tree, dig a hole that’s between 9 and 12 inches deep to accommodate the size of the root ball. The diameter of the hole should be approximately 4 feet – at least twice that of the ball – so roots can easily spread.
Place the tree in the prepared hole, then remove the nylon strings that truss its root ball and cut away as much of the surrounding burlap as possible. Fill in around the base of the trunk using the soil you removed until level.
With this care and planning, your tree will thrive for years to come!