This Holiday, Plant a Live Christmas Tree

Christmas tree farm

The holidays are all about celebrating family, friends and traditions. What better way to elevate those celebrations than by planting a live Christmas tree.

“If someone wanted the experience of having a live Christmas tree, it takes a lot of pre-planning in different climates,” says Therese Olson, co-owner of Lowest Creek Tree Farm in Eleva, Wis.

She and her husband, Tim, have owned and operated the tree farm, which incorporates the business of growing and selling Christmas trees, for nearly 40 years. She says they are getting more and more requests in the past few years for live trees for Christmas.

Two Ways People Plant Live Christmas Trees

There are two main ways that people are requesting these trees.

  • One way is to plant a living evergreen tree in their yards and eventually — years later — cut it down as a Christmas tree.
  • The other is to actually put your living Christmas tree in their home and decorate for the height of the holiday season. Then, you can plant the tree afterward, depending on the climate and the optimum time to transplant it.

Remember, you can’t plant a freshly cut tree that has no roots.

Planting a Transplant or Small Potted Tree

Olson’s nursery offers both styles, and so do many other tree farms or local nurseries. Here is some information on both:


Transplants usually measure 18-24 inches high and cost about $3.50 to $6. They are available in spring and fall. They take 12-14 years to mature to a typical Christmas tree height. “Make sure to consider the sunshine that is available to the tree, and don’t transplant a tree in a place that it won’t grow to a mature size,” she says. Most firms and pine trees need a lot of sunlight.

Potted Trees

Evergreens are 3-4 feet high in a pot. These all need to be replanted before the ground freezes. These small trees can cost $15-$40, depending on the variety and size, Olson says.

Some people have begun a new tradition of placing a live Christmas tree into their homes for a short period. Olson says that should only be five to seven days at the maximum. The trees should then be placed in an unheated garage or other outer building in the cold zones so it remains in dormancy until spring. Make sure wind does not penetrate the building either. Others living in warmer climates can plant them after the celebration.

Find a cool spot for your tree. “Only leave in your home preferably near a cold location, not in front of a heat register. Then you should also insulate the pot to withstand cold temperatures or the root ball will freeze,” she adds. “Then, the tree is dead.”

You can also take the live potted tree and put on your deck or porch, insulate with rocks and put lights on it until spring and then plant in the yard. You can also insulate by putting the tree in a larger pot with straw and Styrofoam or burlap around the ball.

Container Trees, Burlap-Wrapped Trees

Living Christmas trees are purchased in containers or balled and wrapped in burlap or other materials. The container trees a little easier to handle because of a smaller size, according to the North Carolina State Extension. The extension adds that live trees may not survive for several reasons:

  • Larger live trees suffer a bigger degree of transplant shock than smaller ones.
  • While in the home, they could dry out between watering. Even one occurrence of drying out during the holidays can stop a tree from surviving once you replant it outside.
  • People keep trees in the house too long (more than a week) and the tree loses its cold-weather strength.

Selection of Live Trees

Olson explains that in the Midwest, the fir, balsam and Fraser are the most popular with a hybrid of Fraser and balsam called a Canaan. The Fraser fir is from North Carolina is the Cadillac of Christmas trees and holds its needles, she adds.

“People love the balsam because of its strong pine scent. It’s the traditional Christmas trees and are planted all over,” she adds.

The North Carolina Extension says that although the Fraser is very popular as a cut tree, it is not recommended as a living tree to be replanted. It is native to rich soils at elevations of 4,500 feet or higher.

In addition, smaller containerized ornamental conifers can be purchased at many garden centers, according to the North Carolina Extension Service. They come in various varieties including dwarf Alberta spruce, Norfolk Island pine, Italian stone pine and Lawson cedar.

Make sure to read the tag on the tree that comes with the plant to check out if they can be grown in your planting zone. Also, if they greenhouse trees, they might not have any winter hardiness to survive once planted in the ground. Just ask the experts at your local extension service or nursery.

How to Plant a Live Christmas Tree

You should till an area about four to five times the size of the root ball at a 6-inch depth, the extension says. The planting hole should be the diameter or slightly shallower than the root ball or container size. It’s OK to keep the natural burlap on the ball but remove treated burlap, nylon plastic from it.

If the tree is rootbound, break it up or divide twisted roots on the outside of the root system. The soil should be level with the top of the roots.

Add about 3 inches of mulch such as wood chips or straw over the planting area to protect it and keep it moist, says The Old Farmer’s Almanac.  The step helps protect the roots allowing them to continue growing in the fall and prevents freezing and thawing. But don’t put too much mulch on that might cause crown rot. Don’t put that mulch right against the trunk.

If it’s windy in that area, you can use stakes and ties to keep it straight.

For more information about taking care of a live Christmas tree or planting a Christmas tree, go to LawnStarter’s guide to tree care.

“There’s nothing to compare to a natural, fresh Christmas tree,” Olson says. “It’s an experience for the whole family. It doesn’t really matter what size, what variety. It’s just the tradition of many families.”

Main image credit: “Christmas Tree Farm,” Wisconsin DNR, CC by-ND 2.0

Lee Nelson

Lee Nelson

Lee Nelson, an experienced freelance writer and former award-winning newspaper reporter, writes for National Association of Realtors and many state Realtor magazines. She lives in Illinois with her high school sweetheart and loves cooking, swimming, traveling and spending time with her grandchildren.