5 Choices for Living Christmas Trees

Ilona Erwin

Letter MMany of my specimen evergreen trees started out as our living trees for Christmas celebrations. It is a bit of work, you can’t keep them indoors very long, but instead of throwing away a tree, you have a beautiful reminder of your holidays year after year.

If you are thinking of buying a living Christmas tree this year, here are five choices and growing instructions; with landscape information for each tree for years of evergreen beauty.

trees for years to come

Trees for years to come

What Are The Top Christmas Tree Choices For Live Trees?

Norway Spruce (Picea abies). Not a good fragrance, and the branches are quite stiff.
This is the first choice for our family and among the top Christmas tree choices for many parts of the country. We have a number of very large Norway spruces that once spent the Christmas season inside for two weeks. They grow into a tall and wide, loosely branched, evergreen tree. Best choice for challenging conditions.
Canaan Fir, (Abies balsamea var. phanerolepis). This is a wonderful choice if you can find it. Fir fragrance is wonderful and the branching is ideal for displaying ornaments and lights.
I had several of these, but they don’t grow as well in my area over the long term. They are beautiful trees when well-grown, however. Stately with well spaced branches and aromatic fragrance, this fir is the best for Midwest conditions. The Canaan firs did not prove long-lived for me, but that might have been due to earth moving changes made by the county. If you live in a wooded area, try it; it is a beautiful tree.
Scots Pine, (Pinus sylvestris). An old fashioned choice for a Christmas tree.
There is one lone Scot pine on my property, but I’d gladly have more. Long lived, it will become a friend to animal life in your garden. As a Christmas tree it is a traditional and fragrant choice.
Douglas Fir, (Pseudotsuga menziesii )
The top choice for Christmas tree farms in the Midwest, not quite as commonly grown in the landscape (spruces and pines predominate here). It makes a favorite Christmas tree
Alberta Spruce, (Picea glauca ‘Conica’). These are widely available as Christmas plants.
This is the tiny table top tree. My biggest mistake with this type of tree is to keep it inside too long. Because it is smaller, pay close attention to watering while indoors- don’t overwater and don’t let it dry out. It is easier to plant, though, and the ultimate size is much smaller than the regular sized evergreen trees. I decorate this type of tree with miniature ornaments, but it can come pre-decorated in the stores. Keep it misted. It is a very hardy little tree once planted in the landscape.

You have to plan a little early for success with living Christmas trees. Dig your planting hole before the ground freezes and be sure to keep your soil in unheated storage. Decide which tree you wish to put into your landscape plan this year.

Tips on Taking Care of the Tree Inside

A spruce planted in the yard

A spruce planted in the yard, once a living Christmas tree, now a landscape feature.

Prepare your tree outside before moving it in. Take it from outside to an unheated garage or a sheltered porch, don’t shock it into growth by bringing it directly into a warm interior. Use the reverse process when re-introducing your tree outdoors.

Shake your tree slightly to let loose needles fall.

An antidessicant or antiwilt spray is helpful, although I never used one myself. We used to spray the tree with a plant sprayer to keep humidity high, but that is hard on the ornaments.

Today I would use the combination of one of these antiwilt sprays and a humidifier. [‘Wilt Pruf‘ is one brand]

Keep your tree cool. Temperatures greater than 65 degrees may be
harmful to your tree. Consider placing a humidifier near the tree- think of it as a giant houseplant.

Use smaller lights that create less heat.

The recommended time for your tree indoors is 4-10 days depending on who gives the recommendations. I did keep the tree in longer: two weeks. However that is stretching it and one time I did lose a tree, whether to that or the fact that we didn’t water it well enough in particularly frigid conditions, I don’t know.

You will be more successful if you keep your live tree inside for the recommended time of no more than ten days. Usually, though our trees made it and thrived; and now we have some beautiful landscape evergreen trees that block winds, are home to wildlife, and points of interest in the winter garden scene.

Water it once a day- about a quart at a time- to keep the root ball moist.

Visit my  Loving Christmas  site for Christmas inspiration and decorating.

  • Did you ever think of the fact that living Christmas trees are less of a fire hazard? They aren’t tinder dry like cut trees.
  • Be sure you have a large enough galvanized tub or plastic tub to hold the root ball. I lined mine with black plastic and filled in with some moistened peat moss. You can use mulch, too. The whole thing is draped with a Christmas tree skirt or a tablecloth that has a ‘Christmas-y’ look.
  • Pre-plan this choice so you can dig your planting hole in the nicer autumn weather. Keep the soil on a tarp in an unheated shed or garage area, if you can. No one digs a decent hole in frozen earth.
  • Insulate it by putting in a lining of mulch
  • Think about moving (lugging) this tree back and forth. We used a hand truck. You can also drag it on an old piece of carpet or a tarp.
  • Trees with loose root balls are less likely to survive, check this at buying time.

Norway Spruce: Full sun to part sun. Rich, moist, well-drained soil.Grows 40 to 60 feet tall and 25 to 30 feet wide. Medium to fast growth rate.

Douglas fir (not a true fir): grows at a medium rate to 60 ft. in the landscape. It needs full sun.

Scotch pine: grows to an eventual 50 ft. on your property, slowly, eventually losing it’s pyramidal shape, but becoming full of character. Full sun.

Canaan Fir : Slow grower to 50 ft. Needs sun

Alberta spruce: Read the Alberta spruce profile page for growing and planting information.

Dug the hole? Bought the tree? Now decorate for Christmas! Do you have a theme?
Our family always had a cut tree to decorate and keep in the house longer than is possible with a live tree. Online you ought to check out :“Real, fresh-cut Christmas Trees delivered to your Door.”

Read about top choices for all kinds of Christmas Tree choices, including cut and artificial trees.

Christmas tree info from NCTA

More info from Clemson U:
Living Christmas Trees

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Ilona Erwin, author

Meet the Author

Ilona Erwin

I started working on this website beginning in 1998, when it was part of Ilona's Reflecting Pool. Since then I've branched out into a number of online endeavors and work at writing lots of content for my sites. "Ilona's Garden" remains my primary site and is dedicated to home gardener's success.