“OH CHRISTMAS TREE, Oh Christmas tree. How lovely are your branches!” lf you’ve been buying a cut tree each year, those probably aren’t the words you’re singing after the holidays. Instead, you’re probably trying to figure out what to do with the brittle tree before it drops all its needles in your house. But if you opted for a live tree, you’ll continue to belt out that popular carol. In fact, you’ll be enjoying your tree’s lovely branches for many years to come. Learn what’s involved in opting for live or container grown Christmas trees so you can enjoy their lovely branches year round.
Note: If you’re actually looking for a fresh cut Christmas tree, I recommend you look to local Christmas tree farms and popup vendors for the best deals. Incredibly, you can also buy a fresh-cut Christmas tree on Amazon while supplies last, and have it delivered directly to your door!
This post may contain affiliate links. Please see my disclosure for more information. As an affiliate, I earn a small commission every time you make a qualifying purchase through one of my affiliate links (if applicable) at no additional cost to you.
Everything You Need to Know About Live Christmas Trees
CONTENTS: In this article, you will learn everything you need to know about having a living Christmas tree in your home that you can plant outside after the holidays.
- What is Meant By A Live Christmas Tree?
- Why Plant A Live Christmas Tree?
- Where to Buy A Live Christmas Tree
- How to Choose a Live Christmas Tree
- How to Care for A Live Christmas Tree
- Keys to Success When Planting a Live Christmas
- How to Take Care of A Live Christmas Tree After Christmas
- Final Thoughts on Container Grown Christmas Trees
What is Meant By A Live Christmas Tree?
The term “live Christmas Tree” most often means a Christmas tree you can plant or some other kind of rooted Christmas tree. It could even be a Christmas Tree indoor plant. The difference is that with a live Christmas tree, the roots and rootball are still in tact and will continue growing. In a fresh-cut Christmas tree, the roots and rootball have been cut off.
Why Plant Live Christmas Trees?
Benefits of a Live Christmas Tree
To the home gardener, a live Christmas Tree is much more than a temporary decoration for the holidays. It is a long-term addition to your landscape or home that you and birds alike will enjoy. It’s also one of the few things gardeners can do in winter if you live in a cold-weather climate, like I do.
To the conservationist, planting a live Christmas tree saves trees. That’s one more tree saved from being needlessly chopped down then discarded, which helps to preserve our limited resources. Trees play an important ecological role on earth, so it makes sense to do things that are good for the environment–every little bit helps.
Plus, there is nothing like a fresh, living tree to celebrate the holidays. It smells wonderful and outdoors-y, and there’s no worry of a bunch of dry needles messing up the place. It’s the safer kind of tree to have indoors since it doesn’t dry out.
You will also find there are many different varieties of trees to choose from. Fir, spruce and pine are just a few of the alternatives to the traditional cut Balsam Christmas tree. You’ll find a list of 21 varieties, below.
Disadvantages of a Live Christmas Tree
Despite your best intentions, it’s important to recognize that there are some disadvantages to having a live Christmas tree or container grown Christmas trees. Consider:
- They cost as much as twice that of a fresh-cut tree.
- Forget about putting the tree up December 1st, because they can only stay indoors for a short while.
- They are heavy.
- You’ll have to give some forethought in the fall about where to plant the tree, and dig the hole before the ground freezes.
- Like any living plant, they require long-term special care and attention.
- The survival rate for trees planted outside after Christmas is 8 out of 10.
That said, the value of a lifetime addition to your landscape that is ecologically aligned and steeped in holiday memories can’t be overstated.
Long ago, we planted two Christmas trees in my yard to commemorate the births of my children. The trees are now well over 25 feet tall, and magnificent landscape features.
This year, we are investing in a container grown Christmas Tree to become a permanent feature of our home decor.
Does it sounds like this is for you, now that you know the pros and cons? Then, read on to learn more about finding and caring for your tree.
If not, maybe you’d like to buy an artificial Christmas tree from Amazon here, instead. You’ll still be doing the environment a favor, plus there are so many styles to choose from, including some very “real-looking” Christmas trees, like this one.
Where to Buy a Live Christmas Tree
Ready to buy? While you won’t find live Christmas trees at most tree lots that spring up in December, you’ll find live and container grown Christmas trees are readily available at nurseries and tree farms. You can also find them online.
Buying A Live Christmas Tree Locally
Christmas Trees at A Garden Nursery or Tree Farm
One of the best places to get a full-size live Christmas Tree will be your local nursery or tree farm.
That way, you can have a look at the different varieties, sizes, and health of the tree.
You can usually find smaller live Christmas trees for a tabletop here, too.
Because you are buying a live tree from a reputable garden center or tree farm, you’ll have the added benefit of being able to ask the master gardener about specific questions you may have.
You may also be able to arrange for local delivery, too. Remember that a full-size Christmas Tree with a rootball or even in a container is heavy, even if it’s small.
Finally, it’s a good practice to support local businesses, and this is an easy way to do so.
Christmas Trees at Supermarkets and Home Improvement Stores
You might also see container grown Christmas trees at the supermarket or home improvement stores.
Usually, they will be smaller varieties suitable for decorating your front entrance or tabletop.
Foodies and culinary fans can look for festive Rosemary “trees” with the added benefit of providing the kitchen herb for holiday cooking. (If you live in a cold-weather climate, Rosemary is not a hardy herb, so plan on keeping it indoors for the remainder of the winter.)
Another common potted Christmas tree sold in grocery stores and home improvement stores is a Norfolk Pine. They are a lovely option as well, and typically under 4-feet tall, potted up. Sometimes they are already decorated with red bows like this Norfolk Pine! I think it makes a great option for a live Christmas tree, and that is our plan this year.
However, keep in mind that Norfolk Pines are another of the container grown Christmas trees like this live Rosemary tree that are not cold hardy. They are tropical trees and cannot withstand temperatures lower than 35 F (1 C). The good news is, if you keep it indoors, it can grow quite large over the years!
If you can’t find exactly what you’re looking for in the local shops, you can always depend on online options.
The Best Place to Buy Live Christmas Trees Online
As I mentioned earlier, Amazon now sells and ships live Christmas Trees. You can get one here, while supplies last.
But let me be honest. Buying live trees online is really nothing new: long before Amazon, online sellers have offered live and container grown Christmas trees.
Some of the most reputable garden suppliers where you can get container grown Christmas trees or full-size trees include:
How to Choose A Live Christmas Tree
There are a number of questions that come to mind when buying live or container grown Christmas trees. You’ll want to consider the size, type, and cost of the tree.
How Big Should My Christmas Tree Be?
When selecting a live Christmas tree, this is a case where smaller might be better. A tree that is 3 or 4 feet tall is more likely to survive once it’s transplanted. You can still buy a 7-foot tree. You’ll just need the man-power to set it in bring it outside after the holiday.
Or, if you might only want a small table-top Christmas Tree which is under 24″ tall.
In either case, make note of the fact that the container or root ball will likely add quite a bit of height to the total size. This is especially important with large trees to make sure that it will fit with your ceiling height.
The Best Types of Live Christmas Trees
Some will argue the Balsam or Fraser Fir is the best kind of Christmas Tree. But there are several options you might consider, especially if you will be transplanting your Christmas tree outside after the holidays.
21 Christmas Tree Options
You could use any kind of tree, but here are 21 traditional choices for live Christmas trees:
- Arizona Cypress – bluish-green, cone-shaped and native to the US southwest; it grows up to 60 feet.
- Balsam Fir – soft dark needles; branches and needles are flat, native and plentiful to Northeast and Canada; spicy, fresh aroma; dries out easily.
- Black Hills Spruce – a variety of White Spruce that is compact, making a great option for a smaller space or as a table-top Christmas tree.
- Canaan Fir – between a Balsam and Fraser Fir, it has a rich green color and medium fragrance
- Colorado Blue Spruce – blue (some say silver) foliage, nice pyramid shape with strong branches to hold ornaments; thin, pointy needles can be sharp; limited shedding.
- Deodar Cedar – whimsical shape and stature, reminiscent of “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas.”
- Douglas Fir – soft, shiny green needles, very dense branches if trimmed to a perfect cone can be tricky to decorate but very popular in the US; sweetly scented; won’t last as long as others if fresh-cut.
- Dwarf Alberta Spruce – this miniature evergreen with a nice texture is hardy and a perfect fit for small spaces.
- Eastern White Pine – thin, bunched needles up to 5-inches in length, flexible branches (don’t overload with ornaments); the classic “Charlie Brown” Christmas tree.
- Fraser Fir – has one-inch silvery-green needles that are soft to the touch with branches well-spaced for ornaments; grows in a near-perfect triangle; retains shape well during shipping
- Grand Fir – one to tow-inch needles are glossy dark green and soft; light orange scent; not suitable for too many ornaments since the branches aren’t as firm as other varieties.
- Leyland Cypress – feathery, scentless and doesn’t produce sap or shed needles. A great choice for anyone with allergies or who is sensitive to trees.
- Noble Fir – deep blue-green needles and cones with spiky bracts; they grow especially tall, perfect if you want a large tree; near perfect shape.
- Norfolk Pine – also known as Norfolk Island Pine; slow growing, soft needles and boughs; requires a tropical climate but good indoor container tree.
- Norway Spruce – native to Europe, firm branches and lovely triangular shape; needs a lot of water.
- Red Cedar – pyramid shape and strong fragrance. If you’re looking for a “pencil” tree, you’ll love this.
- Rosemary – tender kitchen herb can be trimmed to pyramidal shape and container grown; not hardy in cold-climates; small table-top Christmas tree.
- Scotch Pine – Gained popularity in the UK; has very sharp needles so use caution when handling, holds needles well even when dry.
- Virginia Pine – stout with heavy, trimmable boughs; short, twisted needles and a medium fragrance.
- White Fir – white or blue-green needles, curving, inch-long needles give the tree a cone shape; lemon-scented when needles are crushed, while all Christmas trees (live or fresh-cut) need regular watering, White Fir is a little more tolerant of drought.
- White Spruce – short, stiff needles are strong, holds plenty of ornaments; unpleasant smell when crushed.
How Much Are Live Christmas Trees?
The cost of a live tree is comparable to that of a large landscape shrub or tree. Expect to pay between $80 and $125 for an average-sized Fraser fir, with larger trees or unique varieties costing more. But bear in mind that the return on your investment occurs over many years, as opposed to just a few weeks.
How to Care for A Live Christmas Tree
If you plan to plant your live or container grown Christmas tree outdoors, you’ll need to prepare inside and outside for the greatest odds of success.
Steps to Prepare An Outdoor Site to Plant a Live Christmas Tree
- Before the ground freezes, dig a hole that is as deep and twice as wide as the rootball. Make sure you select an open location so it has plenty of room to mature.
- Fill the hole with leaves, straw, mulch, or wood chips, then cover with burlap so the fill doesn’t blow away. (If the hole is in an area with foot traffic, mark the spot and further cover it with a piece of plywood.)
- Put any soil removed from the hole in a container and store it in the garage so it remains workable.
What To Do With Your Live Christmas Tree When You Get It
- Put the tree in your garage or shed, someplace where it’s protected from the elements and the rootball will not freeze. Or, leave the tree outside but wrap the rootball with straw, leaves, mulch or even an old rug. You will not need to water the tree at this time.
- When you buy a tree from a nursery, it’s in a dormant state. Because of this, plan to bring your Christmas tree indoors for up to a week around the holidays. That’s because the spring-like conditions of a home can cause the tree to produce new buds, thus jeopardizing its ability to survive winter. If you wish to enjoy a live tree indoors longer, you might opt to place it on a cool porch or deck, instead.
- Set the tree on a plastic saucer sled, half-whisky barrel, or some other large metal or plastic container. Keep 1-inch of water in the bottom of the container.
- Decorate and enjoy!
Keys to Success When Planting a Live Christmas Tree After Christmas
As soon as possible after Christmas, you’ll need to prepare your tree for planting with these steps.
- Place your tree in a cool garage or shed for a few days so it acclimates it to the outdoors.
- Place the tree in the the hole you dug*, leaving the burlap on so as not to disturb the root system. You want the top of the rootball is slightly above ground level.
- Fill in the hole with soil and gently tamp the area to remove any air pockets.
- Top with 2-3″ of mulch and optionally stake the tree so no winds blow it over.
*If the ground was frozen and you haven’t prepared a planting site, keep the tree in a protected area until the ground thaws. Don’t expose the roots, as they will dry out and die. Instead, put the burlap-wrapped rootball in a a tub and protect it with damp soil, wood chips, bales of straw or peat moss until early spring when you can plant it.
Live Christmas Tree Care After Planting
In a typical New England winter in my area, an average snowfall will supply the tree with enough water to survive the cold months. However, if snowfall is minimal in your region, water the tree occasionally when the soil is thawed and dry so it doesn’t dehydrate.
Container Grown Christmas Trees Beyond the Holidays
The tree will remain dormant for the rest of the winter, but you and your feathered friends can still enjoy it through the season. You can decorate it with popcorn or raisin garland for the birds, or use simple red bows for a festive display. The brilliant-green color will be a great addition to your winter yard.
In spring, you’ll care for your new tree just as you would any new evergreen in your landscape.
Final Thoughts on Live and Container Grown Christmas Trees
It’s easy to see that container grown Christmas offer a lot of value. They have so much more to offer than fresh cut trees. And, with a little attention and planning, you will have a holiday memento to last long beyond Christmas.
Have you ever had a live Christmas tree? If no, will this the the year you start a new tradition with live or container grown Christmas trees? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.
This article is a collaborative post and may contain affiliate links. As always, all opinions expressed are my own. For more information, please see the following Disclosure.
This text has been adapted from an article that previously appeared in print in the Jan. 2006 issue of Birds & Blooms Magazine as “Extending Christmas / Use a live tree for beauty that lasts” by Jacqueline Gately.
Photo credits – Tree in burlap, Tree with presents: Karolina Grabowska (Pexels), Table top tree – Oleg Zaicev (Pixabay), Snowy tree – Jill Wellington (Pixabay)
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