Enjoy a living Christmas tree for years to come

Plan on using a living, container-grown Christmas tree this holiday season? Follow these steps to ensure success.

Container-grown Christmas treeWhile Christmas trees are a central feature of the Christmas season, an increasing number of consumers are opting for live, container-grown Christmas trees. This concept is attractive to many people since the Christmas tree can be planted following the holiday season and permitted to develop into an attractive ornamental, adding the beauty and memories to your landscape. However, for this to occur, Michigan State University Extension recommends these guidelines should be followed to ensure success.

Photo: Living, container-grown Christmas tree. Photo credit: Frank Genovese, Candy Cane Tree Farm

First, select a tree species that will not only be a good Christmas tree, but will also develop into an attractive tree in your yard. As when planting any tree, carefully consider your site and choose species that are well adapted to it. Almost all conifers used as living Christmas trees are fairly fast growing trees, growing 1 foot in height per year once established, so be sure to allow plenty of room for growth. Species such as black hills, Norway, Serbian and white spruce, along with Canaan fir, are good choices for most Michigan landscapes. In retail stores, we often find Fraser fir as potted living Christmas trees. However, Fraser fir has very specific site requirements and may not do well in many sites, especially if soil drainage is poor or soil pH is above 6.0.

Container-grown black hills spruceSecond, the longer the tree is held indoors, the more it will begin to lose cold-hardiness and significantly affect the survival and overall tree quality. The saying “shorter is betterholds true for living Christmas trees, so plan on keeping the tree indoors for no more than two weeks. While the tree is indoors, treat it like a houseplant, making sure to water it regularly. Place the tree in a cooler area away from heat sources such as fireplaces or furnace outlets. This will keep the plant from drying out.

Photo: A container-grown black hills spruce provides a different option for the holiday season. Photo credit: Jill O’Donnell, MSU Extension

Finally, the way containerized conifers are handled after they have been displayed indoors will be the key to success or failure when the tree is planted. In the past, many articles have recommended planting the tree in January immediately after display or placing them outside and heavily mulching the container to protect the roots. Research at Michigan State University has shown that holding trees in a shed or unheated garage and then planting them in the spring is the best solution. Make sure to periodically check the moisture levels and water the plant as needed.

You may want to start the tradition of using a living Christmas tree. If these procedures are followed, it is possible for your Christmas tree to add beauty to the Christmas celebration and to your landscape for many years to come.

For more information on selecting and caring for your Christmas tree, see the following MSU Extension articles:

Dr. Cregg’s work is funded in part by MSU‘s AgBioResearch.

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