How to Choose a Living Christmas Tree

December 8, 2010

I wish every family could experience, at least once, the pleasures of having a living Christmas tree. It’s a wonderful way to honor a loved one or to mark a special milestone or occasion, first indoors adorned with ornaments, then outdoors where family and neighbors can enjoy it for years to come.

Every day I look through the windows at my living tree, a blue spruce. It anchors the perennial garden’s northeast corner. My husband surprised me with it one Christmas after learning that I had cancer. Eighteen years later, the blue spruce stands tall and bold, a thriving celebration of life.

If you don’t have outdoor space for a living Christmas tree, consider donating it after the holidays to your favorite park, community organization, school, or church. If you have outdoor space for a potted tree, choose a slow growing or dwarf variety.

Living trees do cost more than a cut tree, but it will give you years of pleasure. Here are some tips to help you choose the right tree:

  • Living Christmas trees include spruce, cedar, sequoia, fir, cypress, pine.
  • A good variety for keeping a living tree in an outdoor pot is blue spruce. These grow less than eight inches per year.
  • Take your time, and inspect the trees carefully before making a purchase.
  • Read the nursery tags. Determine if the tree’s mature size, light, soil, and drainage requirements match your planting site and zone.
  • Look for new growth and flexible branches.
  • Avoid trees that have yellow, brown, or shedding needles or other signs of damage.
  • Never buy a tree (or shrub) that is root bound. Lift the tree out of its nursery pot. If the roots wrap around the root ball/soil like a girdle, don’t buy it. Eventually, the tree will choke and die.
  • The root ball of a ball-and-burlap tree should be firm, not falling apart. Rock-hard soil is an indication of improper watering.

Tomorrow:  Tips on caring for your living Christmas tree.



  1. What a lovely story! Yes, living things remind us that live goes on and we, just like living Christmas trees, can adapt and survive whatever obstacles cross our life’s path.

    I didn’t know about the ‘root bound’ plants/trees not being a good choice. I have purchased root boud plants in the past, but thought once released from their containers, the roots would naturally spread out in the soil where they were planted. Thanks for the information Dianne.


    • I heard a landscaper say that no matter how large his order is, he pulls every plant or tree out of the pot and if it’s girdled, he won’t buy it.


  2. The other day I saw on tv there are companies that rent a tree for Christmas. You water it and then bring it back to them within a certain number of days after Christmas. This saves our trees and it can be reused by someone next year.


    • What a great idea. I wonder how many years the trees can be reused before getting too large, and if the too-large trees are sold does the buyer get a discount for purchasing a ‘used’ tree. Too funny.


  3. True and interesting facts concerning trees especially for the Christmas season. I was raised in the Mt. Shasta area and every December my dad would take me to the slopes of Mt. Shasta to cut a silver tip fir tree. It wasn’t until years later I discovered I developed allergies to drying out trees. I used to buy living trees but eventually I became satisfied with a nice-looking man-made tree. This way I served the environment and solved my allergy problem.


    • Sounds like you have some good childhood memories. I hear you regarding man-made Christmas trees. I have allergies too. Thanks for the comment.


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