How do I choose and care for a live Christmas tree?
Great question! For most folks, the annual Christmas tree debate comes down to getting a fresh-cut tree or going the artificial tree route. Both sides have their fans. But over the last several years, a third option has gained in popularity — a live or living Christmas tree. Think of it as a beautiful Christmas tree that’s yours to decorate and enjoy during the holidays, then take outside to plant in your yard where you can enjoy it for years to come. Yet like any living tree, knowing how to select, plant and care for it after the holidays will be a gift that keeps on giving.
Choosing your live tree
First, look for a tree that will grow well in our area. Here in southern Oregon, that typically means any type of pine, fir or spruce tree. Next, think about size — both in terms of making sure it fits nicely in your planned holiday space now... as well as where it will be planted outside, knowing it will grow much larger. And finally make sure you’re buying a healthy tree to begin with. You want a tree that has good color and needle retention, soft and flexible branches, and a root system that’s moist and not bound by the container it’s in. Also check for any signs of disease or damage from pests.
Preparing your live tree
Once you purchase your live tree and bring it home, keep it outside in a protected area. It will be hard, but try and resist the urge to bring it into the house right away. Sheltering the tree from high winds and full sun on a covered porch or garage helps acclimate the tree to warmer temperatures. Remember, the more time it spends outdoors, the better it is for the tree.
If you like, you can spray your life tree with an anti-wilt or anti-desiccant product to help the tree retain moisture and reduce needle loss once the tree comes inside. Spray the tree before moving it inside the house if you decide to use one of these products.
Bringing your live tree indoors
If you can, it’s best to wait until just a few days before Christmas to bring the tree inside. Compared to where the tree has been growing and will grow after the holidays, your house is very warm and very dry — not ideal for a living tree. So fewer days is better. Keep the tree away from heat vents, fireplaces, pellet stoves, radiators or anywhere else where heat can dry the tree out. Monitor the soil closely to make sure it remains moist. Gently decorate (with cool LED bulbs if you’re adding lights) and enjoy!
Planting your live tree
After Christmas, move your tree back outdoors as soon as possible. But don’t plant it yet. It needs to readjust to being outdoors again, so reverse the earlier process and set it in a protected area for several days, away from direct sun, high winds or warm areas. Keep the soil moist and don’t let it dry out. In a week or so, it will be ready to plant.
It helps if you prepare the planting site ahead of time — especially if the ground is frozen. The hole should be at least twice as wide as the root ball, but no deeper. Planting your tree slightly higher than the surrounding soil will help with drainage. And as with any trees you plant, be sure and backfill with the original soil — not organic matter like mulch, wood chips or sawdust.
Once the tree is planted, be sure to water as needed and mulch with Rogue Fine Compost to retain moisture. Conditions in winter can be dry, especially in our area, and it’s important to keep trees — especially newly planted trees — thoroughly watered.
You did it! A live Christmas tree that became a gorgeous part of your year-round landscape. Proper care — before and after the holidays — will ensure that your special tree thrives for many holiday seasons to come.