The Living Christmas Tree
This is my site Written by Geoff on January 1, 2001 – 8:09 pm

In December’s Yard Talk we made a case against using a potted conifer as a Christmas Decoration. In fact we said: 

“A word of caution for those choosing a potted tree, they require careful planning and a lot more work. We prefer cut living trees that are recyclable. In our area in Zone 5 in Southwestern Lower Michigan, we have seen too many trees that did not survive the harsh Winters.”

While we still stand by our statement that a living tree is not for everyone from the feedback we received that more and more people are choosing the potted tree. Last season almost 18 percent of the trees sold in our area were potted or ball and burlaped. 

Two Christmas tree farms in our area have even switched part of there “cut your own” acreage to “dig your own”. They both provide the shovels, burlap, and twine with the customer supplying the muscle. Even with the average tree weighing 150-200 pounds they report that business was brisk. Another individual reported that a nursery in their area lets you select a tree in the warmer seasons then will dig and wrap it just before the holidays. They even offer delivery and decorating services. 

The advantage to both of these methods is that you are assured of getting a tree which will grow in your area. Also you know how long the tree has been dug. In the first case you even have control of how it was dug and wrapped or potted. The advantage in the later case is that the tree is being handled and transported by professionals with professional equipment. 

It use to be that living trees came only balled and burlaped or in plastic pots. Once and awhile a retailer would stick a tree in a half whiskey barrel but that was about all. Today you have a much wider choice from light weight concrete/fiberglass pots to the newer decorative tubs made from recycled plastics. We have seen pots which would hold a 5-7 foot evergreen, that could easily be moved with the assistance of a few friends,. Using a large pot not only allows for better planting but, ease of watering. Also, a large pot will not dry out as quickly. One individual always sprays her tree with Wilt Pruf before she brings the tree in and again when she moves it out. This helps the tree hold moisture and prevents drying out. 

These large potted evergreens can be easily rolled outside with a hand cart. The tree, once outside and placed in a sheltered area, can be easily mulched with straw or marsh hay. With wind protection, careful watering, and treatment with an anti-transpirant the tree has a good chance of survival. 

Another way to “winter over” a tree is to rent space in your local florist’s or nursery’s greenhouse. Usually these greenhouses are pretty bare after the holidays. The current popularity of sun rooms also offers a place to store a tree. These attached rooms which, while unheated, are usually above freezing and offer suitable storage. Even if you do not have one you probably know someone that does who will be more than happy to help out. 

If you forgot to prepare a planting hole before the ground froze and all else fails you can always hire or rent a tree spade. These large hydraulic powered shovels can penetrate even the hardest frozen ground. While not cheap, $100.00- $200.00 depending on the size, they will plant any tree you can get into your house. Even with this method, adequate shelter and water are important. 

Living trees require careful planning and more work than other forms of Christmas Trees. Remember, a lot of this work is after the joy and glitter of the holiday season is over. If you are planning a ski vacation or heading south for the winter someone still must take care of “the tree”. This is why we do not think selecting a live tree should be taken lightly. After all why go through the trouble of selecting a living tree, potting it, and bringing it into your home only to have it die.

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Modified: March 7, 2009 at 8:13 pm GMT-0800

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