Live Christmas Trees

When it comes to Christmas trees, there are 3 options.  One, the traditional spruce, fir, pine or cedar that are sold at garden centers, hardware stores and by youth organizations as fundraisers.  Next are the small decorative Norfolk Island Pine trees and rosemary “trees” (plants that have been sculpted into a conical shape and wrapped with foil).  These are good options for the apartment dweller or dining rooms to add a festive presence.  The third option are live Christmas trees, ones that still have the roots attached and retain the possibility of future planting in the landscape.


Considering the date of this blog, the third week of December, the second or third options might be best.  By now, cut Christmas trees are probably pretty picked over and most likely dried out, having been cut in October for sale in November.  On the other hand, don’t rule it out completely – if you ram the butt end on the concrete and no green needles fall out, and the terminal ends are still pliable and bend without breaking, then it may still be a good option.

Norfolk Island Pine 1 (2).jpg

We always get asked about the “live” trees, which are really just held over nursery stock.  Is this a good option?  After all, they could be planted and then the memory of 2017 would be etched in the family memory as it grows on in future years, sort of a 2 for 1.  The answer is – it depends.  If the tree is purchased and left outdoors, on the north side of the house, with mulch mounded around the roots and the root ball is kept moist, and it’s displayed indoors for a maximum of 3 days, far away from heat registers, then yes, it’s a good option.


Hm…why is it necessary to go to all of this trouble?  Trees like this can easily deharden indoors, as they respond to the dramatic warm up.  If they respond in this way, they may not survive the move outdoors and cold winter months of January, February and March.


Oh, and a couple other caveats that might dissuade you from a live tree.  One, a tree of this kind usually weighs around a hundred pounds, which might be a bit unwieldy.  Second, it’s important to pre-dig the hole and save the soil nearby for backfilling around the root ball the day after Christmas.  The weather may or may not cooperate with this consideration.  As well, all the other steps in tree planting are still in place – proper depth, untangling circling roots, removing the burlap and strings, mulching over the roots, keeping mulch away from the trunk and keeping the root mass moist after planting.


When you get right down to it, it’s all about fit.  As you think about what is best for you and your family, think about all of the factors above and make a good choice.

John Fech
Horticulture Extension Educator at Nebraska Extension
John Fech is a horticulturist with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and certified arborist with the International Society of Arboriculture. The author of 2 books and over 200 popular and trade journal articles, he focuses his time on teaching effective landscape maintenance techniques, water conservation, diagnosing turf and ornamental problems and encouraging effective bilingual communication in the green industry. He works extensively with the media to extend the message of landscape sustainability, making over 100 television and radio appearances each year.
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