While fresh-cut trees are the most popular choice for Christmas trees, there are still a lot of people who like to have a living tree as an alternative to a fresh-cut tree or in addition to a fresh-cut tree. Do you know the difference?
A living Christmas tree is one that still has the roots attached to it, and may be in a pot or a burlap sack. As Sean, our horticulture guru here at The Gardener’s Center says, they’re going to “continue on with their lives” after the Christmas season and will get planted out in the yard.
The way you bring them into the house and the way you care for them is really different from fresh-cut trees. Sean explains what makes them different and even a bit more challenging.
First, what are we asking a living tree to do when we make it a Christmas tree?
To help us understand, consider the live spruces The Garden Center offers as Christmas trees. They are grown in the local Darien area, which is a cold climate in the winter. They have been growing outside in the spring, summer, and fall, and are now heading into winter conditions. Which means the trees have now gone dormant. As the days have gotten shorter and the temperatures have gotten colder, the trees think it’s winter and it’s time to rest, which they need.
Here’s where it gets tricky. A lot of folks want to treat a live tree like they would a fresh-cut tree and have it in the house for three or four weeks. But—not to be a Grinch—live trees shouldn’t be in the house for more than a week. Ideally, five to seven days, tops.
Why should we keep a living tree in the house for just a short time?
Again, living trees aren’t typically growing right now. They’re resting and “chilling out” for the winter. When you bring one into your house where it’s 75 or 80 degrees, and you keep it there for more than a week, it starts thinking, “Hey, it’s April. It’s time to start growing again.” And it will.
While that may not sound so terrible, it is. One, the tree hasn’t had nearly enough rest that it needs. And two, when you put it back outside in January, all the new growth that the tree made while inside the house is going to get destroyed. All of that stresses the tree because it doesn’t know whether it’s time for dormancy or growth!
Following the proper procedure for getting your living tree into and out of the house is really important.
You want to bring it in gradually…
- Go from the cold-cold outside (like we have in Connecticut this time of year) to maybe an unheated (40 to 50 degrees) garage or shed for a couple days.
- Give it a good soak right before you bring it into the house.
- Then bring it inside the house for five to seven days at the most.
- Enjoy the beauty and fragrance!
- In taking the live tree back out of the house, it’s extremely important that it goes into the “acclimation” spot such as your unheated garage, shed or other outbuilding for four to seven days.
- Now it’s time to get it back outside for the winter.
Get a fresh cut and a drink!
Tree growers normally start cutting trees in late October or early November. When a tree is cut, it starts sealing the cut over. That’s why it’s critical to give your tree a fresh cut of at least half an inch across the bottom of the trunk.
It’s also important that once that fresh cut is made, your tree goes into water right away. If you’re not putting your tree up as soon as you get it home, put it in a 5-gallon bucket with water so it can be drinking.
If you can’t get it into water within three or four hours, you’ll have to give it another fresh cut.
Do you need to plant your living tree right away?
If you’ve chosen a living spruce for your tree, it’s hardy and doesn’t need to be planted right away after you take it back outside. You can tuck it into the corner of the yard or under the deck and out of the wind for the winter. Also, a spruce can stay in the pot it came in and doesn’t need any special protection. And then come spring, plant it where you want it.
The alternative is to dig your hole now before the ground freezes and once you’re done with your tree for Christmas, you can plant it in the hole you’ve already made.
Just remember, the key to success with your live tree is to respect that it’s resting, and that you don’t want to “wake it up” just to throw it back outside in the cold again. It simply won’t stay healthy if you do that.