How to Plant a Living Christmas Tree

Lead Image

Want to change up your annual tradition of bringing a Christmas tree home for the holidays, but don't know how? Consider purchasing a living tree that can be admired during the festive season, and then planted somewhere on your property. While you may not be able to do it every year, this activity can bring fond memories to you and your loved ones, while adding beauty to your outdoor landscape. This article will go over how to plant a living Christmas tree.

Can You Plant a Christmas Tree?

pine trees with root balls in planting bags

Yes, but it has to stay in dirt the whole time. Once you cut the roots off, the best you can do is possibly coax a branch to propagate. If you want to plant your Christmas tree after enjoying it indoors, buy one that still has a root ball and keep it planted in a pot until you put it in a permanent location in the ground.

Choose Your Species

happy couple with living Christmas tree in plant nursery

The main thing to consider when choosing what kind of tree to plant is your USDA hardiness zone. Do some research or ask your local nursery what species will do best, especially for winter planting. Tree farms may also have living trees for sale. Native trees will transplant best, naturally. Consider the aesthetic as well – how tall and wide will the tree grow at full maturity? Do you have the proper space for it? What kind of sunlight will it need? You also need to choose between container grown or burlap-wrapped trees. Containers are generally easier to handle and may transplant just fine, however, burlap-wrapped root balls tend to have a better chance at survival.

Prep the Plant Site

shovel digging a hole for a tree

For many of us, the ground may be difficult to dig up around Christmastime, so prepare your site before temperatures continue to drop. Choose a sunny location that will provide enough space for the tree to fully mature (most trees prefer lots of sun). Dig your hole to the specifications of the tree: this is why choosing your species is important beforehand. Keep the back-fill around in either a wheelbarrow in the garage, or somewhere that the dirt won't freeze. If temperatures are too harsh for planting, you may need to create a permanent place for it to stay dormant until spring planting is possible.

Condition for Indoor Life

pine trees in pots in a plant nursery

Once you have purchased your tree, you’ll need to find a proper bin for the tree to sit in if it is burlap-wrapped. If it is in a container, you may want to place it in a decorative pot. Then, find an area to condition the tree before going inside. Covered, protected, cool areas like a garage, shed, or barn work perfectly. It should stay there for a few days, making sure to keep the soil or root ball moist. Time management is important as you can only have a living tree inside for 7-10 days, so keep this time frame in mind. If the tree is left inside too long it will break dormancy, and not survive going back out into the cold.

Once Inside

woman caring for living Christmas tree with ornaments in planter

Water it like you would any houseplant, keeping the soil moist, allowing for proper drainage, and watering once the top inch is dry. Keep away from heat sources like fireplaces, air vents, and space heaters, and consider LED or low-temperature string lights so the tree is safe from drying out too quickly. Depending on the size and weight of the tree you may want to lay down something to protect your floors. Avoid flocking the tree as this fake “white snow” effect is created using toxic chemicals that will not break down in nature, and may pose a threat to the tree once planted outside.

Post-Christmas Planting

After the holidays are done, take off any decorations and prep it for the same re-conditioning you did before bringing it inside: let it acclimatize to the outdoors again by spending a few days in a protected outdoor area. If your site is already prepped for planting, then unwrap or take the tree out of the container and set into the hole. Fill in with the dirt you took out, making sure to water the roots and surrounding dirt thoroughly. Lay about three inches of mulch around the tree in a circle and keep it well-watered, especially during the first year.

person planting a tree in earth

Cold vs. Warm Climate Planting

Not all trees will transplant well once it's too cold, especially if extreme weather poses a threat during planting. You may have to keep the still-dormant tree in your protected outdoor space until the spring comes and planting is ideal once again. This will depend on the species, so make sure you know what conditions the tree can survive in. In most cases, if you live in zones 6 or lower and the ground is frozen, you’ll want to keep the tree in a sheltered spot until spring. Over that time the tree will continue to need watering, however, it may need it less frequently because of its dormant state. If you live in zone 7 or higher and the ground is not frozen, then you should be able to plant without any issues, even if the temperature is cool.

Purchasing a living tree is similar in price to a cut one, but its everlasting beauty will make it priceless. Make some memories this year by planting a living Christmas tree: it will add shelter to local wildlife and enhance your winter landscape for years to come.