If you’ve decided to invest in a live tree for the holidays this year, you may already be thinking about how to care for it once the holiday passes. If so you’re undoubtedly wondering “When should you plant a Christmas tree?”
While a tree can survive in its pot for a while, it’s best to get it into the ground within a few weeks following the holiday celebrations. However, there’s usually more to the process than simply planting it. We’ll cover that a bit later. For now, let’s cover some other essential information.
What Is the Best Christmas Tree to Plant?
Every family has its own traditions around the perfect holiday tree. For some, it’s a mess-free fake tree that pops out of the box already decorated. For others, it’s a straggly small tree that draws pity, or a majestic 14’ tower that commands attention.
Fake or real, large or small, most traditional Christmas trees come from the scientific family groups of conifers. The term conifer means it produces cones--think pinecones. Common conifer trees include pine, fir, and spruce.
The answer to the question regarding the best Christmas tree to plant is two-fold. First, it might simply be the tree you have. If you find yourself to be the recipient of a live Christmas tree, that’s the kind you will have available to plant.
The second part of the answer depends on where you live and your personal preferences. Let’s look at some of your options.
These trees are ubiquitous at holiday tree lots in the northwest part of the country due to popularity and overall appeal. They feature a blue-green tint to their needles and a sturdy base.
Noble fir trees grow to impressive heights in the forest, often towering over other trees and topping out at over 250 feet.
In your yard, they may not acquire that height, but you will need to ensure it has room to grow in all directions. This isn’t a strong choice for a backyard with limitations.
Noble firs grow well in USDA hardiness zones five to six and prefer full sun. They will, however, tolerate some shade.
Another option in the fir family, the white fir can be found in the Western United States. The white fir features a whitish to blue/gray tint on the needles, each of which curve upwards for a distinct shape of the tree overall.
This is a hearty tree that can handle less care and more abuse from inside the home and from nature once it’s back in the ground.
White fir grows well in zones three to seven and can grow to a maximum height of around fifty feet.
Yet another member of the fir family, balsam fir can be found thriving in zones three through five in the northwest portion of the United States and into Canada.
This tree features soft, flat branches and needles that are commonly used in wreaths and centerpieces. You can expect it to reach 30-50 feet in height.
In southeastern parts of North America you’ll find Frasier fir, a bright green tree with soft needles. The Frasier fir is coveted for neat branch spacing that is appealing for hanging ornaments.
This is another tree that can reach 60 feet when growing in the wild. While it might not obtain that maximum in a backyard environment, it will need room to grow.
Ubiquitous in the Northwest United States, the grand fir is synonymous with Christmas in the region. This popular tree can top out at 200 feet so make sure it’s the right choice for your yard if you decide to plant it after the holiday.
This tree is also on nearly every lot in the western parts of the country. It’s somewhat less desirable as a Christmas tree because the branches lean into each other without adequate spacing for ornaments. However, those who prefer a ‘chubby’ tree see their charm. Grow them in zones four to six.
The most common spruce trees used at Christmas time are the Norway spruce, which has been popular in European countries for generations, and the Colorado Blue Spruce, which is native to Colorado and throughout the Rocky Mountains.
Finally, we also have the Eastern White Pine and Scotch Pine, which are both popular options both for decorating at Christmas and for backyard landscaping.
So now that you’ve coupled your favorite type of Christmas tree with the USDA Hardiness Zone and your personal preference for a location in your yard, it’s time to pull together your plan.
Can You Plant a Live Christmas Tree?
Yep. It might not be something you’ve given much thought to, especially if your traditions include cutting down a tree with the family.
Trees are living plants. Inasmuch, they can be transplanted. In this case, Christmas trees are simply brought inside for the season before the transplant takes place.
Pros of a Live Tree
Once you reset your thinking, you could have dozens of trees planted over your lifetime, simply by planting your tree after Christmas.
It’s well known that trees are the planet’s lungs, sucking in carbon dioxide and releasing the oxygen we breathe. So not only does buying a live tree keep us from killing a useful resource, but it will also live on to benefit us all through improved air quality.
If nothing else, buying a tree in a pot means not having to wrangle a cut tree into and out of a tree stand. We say happy holidays to that idea.
Another bonus of a live tree is that you get to enjoy it from this day forward as a permanent feature of your yard. Pine, fir, spruce and other trees add texture, natural colors, shade, and even soil stability to your yard.
Finally, your fresh tree won’t leave behind buckets of pine needles on your carpet since it’s still alive!
Cons of a Live Tree
While it’s easy to see the advantages of a live tree, it’s not the answer for everyone.
The cost of pre-cut and u-cut trees have doubled and tripled in recent years. Alongside that increase, potted trees have gone up in price as well.
Depending on where you are, you could pay anywhere from $15 to $150 for a cut tree. Also depending on availability and your location, a live tree can run $60 to over $300.
As the costs of cut trees continues to rise, it brings the benefits of a live tree into focus. While it might cost twice as much, you will be able to enjoy that tree for a lifetime, not just a season.
Potted trees are heavy. Really heavy. You may find yourself struggling to maneuver a live tree, starting with loading it into an appropriate rig and continuing once you get it home.
It might be heavy, but as we mentioned, at least you don’t have to wrestle it into a tree stand.
How to Plant a Christmas Tree
Once you’ve decided to make the investment, ensure a long and happy relationship by planting your Christmas tree in a timely manner, using the proper techniques.
Start by carefully selecting a location for your tree. Remember the tree will not only grow upwards, but also outwards so don’t place it too close to buildings or fence lines.
Spend a few days watching the sun throughout your yard. This will help you map out the effects of shade once your tree grows larger. If you are trying to shade a specific area during afternoon sun, for example, place the tree accordingly.
Be aware that a large tree can block resources (such as sunlight) from surrounding plants so make your decision with the overall landscape design in mind.
1. Dig a Hole
If you live in an area where the ground freezes during winter, you’ll want to prep your tree location well before the actual planting takes place. Since you’ll want to plant your tree shortly after the holidays, dig out the hole in the fall.
Your hole should be about two feet wide and one and a half feet deep. Since you probably won’t have the tree yet, estimate how deep the root ball will sit.
To provide a guideline, the top of the roots should rest slightly higher than the surrounding ground. When the time comes, you can put some dirt back into the hole, if needed, to raise the root ball up to the surface.
As you remove dirt from your hole, put it in buckets and store them under cover for use later. This can be in a shed, the garage or along the side of the house.
Fill your hole with a blanket, bag full of yard debris, or other materials that are lightweight and easy to remove later. This will help keep the soil insulated from exposure and cold temperatures.
For safety, cover your hole with planks or a sheet of plywood.
2. Select Your Tree
Shopping for a Christmas tree you plan to plant later on is a somewhat different experience than selecting a cut tree for the season.
Since you’ll have this tree long term, look beyond how it will appear with lights and ornaments. Instead, evaluate the overall shape. Look for large voids, missing branches, and the contour of the branches, trunk, and top of the tree.
Also consider the size you will need. The more mature the tree is, the more likely you are to struggle with hauling it home, getting it into the house, taking it back out of the house, and wrangling it into the hole.
Note that live trees may be planted in soil or the roots may just be wrapped in burlap. If the latter, plant the tree in a pot as soon as you get it home.
3. Care For Your Live Christmas Tree
If you’ve chosen a healthy tree, it should thrive indoors during the Christmas season. Just be sure to check the water level daily and provide plenty of moisture.
Avoid placing the tree near wood-burning stoves or heat vents where it may dry out.
4. Transition the Tree
Going from a cozy indoor environment to a starkly cold one outdoors can put the tree into shock. Instead of a one-step maneuver, transition the tree by first moving it to a garage, shed, or covered porch.
Allow the tree to acclimate for a few days before planting.
5. Plant the Tree
You can leave the burlap in place, but loosen it so the roots have room to expand. If your tree doesn’t have burlap, move the soil it’s planted in along with the tree.
Using the soil it’s familiar with will help the tree adapt to its new situation.
Make adjustments to your hole as needed, creating a space twice as wide as the root ball and deep enough for the top of the root ball to sit just above the surface.
Next, add those buckets of reserved soil back into the hole. Apply pressure all around the roots to release any trapped air and make the soil compact around the tree.
6. Tree Care
Once planted, you’ll want to care for your new tree in the same way you care for other plants in your yard. Be sure to give a thorough watering so water sinks deep into the root system.
Apply a few inches of mulch around the base of the tree, but avoid coming into contact with the trunk. The goal is to protect the roots rather than the tree itself.
Water the tree regularly and watch it for signs of shock. You may need to add a protective layer the first season during extreme cold snaps or heavy snow.
Deciding to plant a live Christmas tree is a great way to enhance the long-term vision for your property. Learn more about your options in our related articles Keep Your Christmas Tree Green All Season and How to Trim a Christmas Tree.