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Christmas trees are the centre of all Christmas decorating traditions. But many people are tired of buying a tree year after year, only to have them left at the local recycling point for them to be chipped and recycled. They are also getting more expensive than ever too.
Another alternative to buying a cut tree is actually buying a pot grown Christmas tree that can be brought inside the home or left outside and decorated when the season approaches. You can then pot it into a new larger pot after Christmas and bring it indoors again the following year.
Some people may choose to buy a pot grown Christmas tree and then plant it outside after Christmas in a more permanent location. You then have two options, leave it outside to enjoy with some outdoor Christmas lights on or dig the tree up and put it into a new pot. However, you will likely damage the roots and it will not survive being planted out again after Christmas.
Whatever you decide to do, below is my guide, after 20 years of experience, on how to plant a real Christmas tree in your garden.
You should always buy a pot grown Christmas tree NOT a potted tree!
If you are going to plant a real Christmas tree you have to be sure you pick the right type as this step is very important. That doesn’t mean the right variety, but rather container-grown versus potted trees.
Why you should not choose a potted Christmas tree
Potted trees have already grown in the ground and then dug up and placed in a pot before being subsequently sold to you. Potted Christmas trees are often slightly cheaper than pot-grown trees. This is okay if you are planning on just using it indoors over Christmas for a couple of weeks, but not for planting outdoors as the roots are often too damaged.
Why you must buy a pot grown Christmas tree
Container-grown trees (or pot-grown as they are also sold) have always been grown in a container, although sometimes the container is sunk into the grown. These are more expensive, but they are also more likely to survive transplantation because they haven’t been exposed to any root damage.
By comparison, potted trees might not live as long because of the shock associated with growing in the ground, moving to a container often with very little root, and then being planted back in the ground.
Where to plant a real Christmas tree?
When it comes to planting a real Christmas tree in your garden, most types of Christmas trees get fairly large. Even Fraser Firs, which are probably the smallest of the Christmas trees, will reach 7m (23ft). Many of the other types, such as Nordman Firs, can easily reach 15-20m (50-65ft) in 20 years. With this in mind, they need plenty of space and prefer a sheltered position with plenty of sun. They will also grow in most soil types as long as it is not waterlogged.
What if you want to bring it indoors over Christmas before planting it in the garden?
Whilst you are preparing to plant your tree, you need to keep it cool and well-watered. If you are planning to purchase your tree and decorate it for Christmas, then grow it in your garden thereafter, you want to place it somewhere far from a fireplace or a radiator, in a cool room as this will quickly dry them out and they need to be kept watered to prevent needle loss.
Preparing your tree to be planted outside after Christmas
If you are experiencing particularly cold weather after Christmas, it might be best to move the tree from inside your home to an unheated greenhouse or a colder garage/shed for a few weeks. Bring it out during the day, and then shelter during the night, before you make the final transition to your garden where it will be fully exposed to the cold weather.
Planting a Christmas tree in the garden
When the time comes to plant the tree, make sure the ground is not waterlogged or frozen. You might want to dig the hole when the weather is warmer and save your soil for later. We recommend this if the area you live in is prone to heavy snow, such as in Scotland, most parts of the UK should be fine.
This will remove the battle of digging a hole in frozen ground. The hole should be slightly wider than the root ball but not any deeper than the top of the pot as you don’t want to plant it too deeply.
Water your tree well so that the roots are hydrated and it comes out of the container easily. In some cases, because they are pot grown, you may need to pull the pot away as the roots can be tightly packed inside. Compact roots is not a problem, I used to be involved with planting the leftover pot grown trees after Christmas and they always survived and grew well. We used to grow them on through the season and sell them alongside our cut Christmas trees the following year.
Place the root ball and trunk into the holes so that they are not buried any deeper than they were in the original container.
Fill in the remainder of the hole with the soil. You could mix a little compost to give it a good start or add a fertiliser such as a bone meal. Water it well to prevent any air bubbles and thoroughly moisten the soil.
You might need to stake the tree into position if it seems unstable or is at risk of being blown over by heavy winds, however, this is usually not needed.
Once planted, apply an organic mulch such as compost or bark at the base to help with moisture retention and give it a good watering. Continue to water often for the first year, especially during periods of dry weather until they get established.
Placing your Christmas tree into a container
If you plan on planting your Christmas tree into another pot then I recommend using a larger pot than it is currently in, or the half whisky barrel that is becoming a popular choice. The same process can be followed but use soil-based potting compost, for example, the John Innes No 2 Potting Compost that is designed for shrubs and trees.
Don’t forget to make sure there are plenty of drainage holes and to put a good amount of crockery in the bottom of the container to stop the holes from getting blocked with soil. Give it a good watering and water regularly.
Watering and feeding Christmas trees
It is important to water through any dry spells and keep the soil rich in fertilisers, especially in the Spring. After the first year, it should be able to take care of itself and get all the moisture it needs from the ground itself once the roots have established themselves. The most common cause of Christmas trees not surviving is underwatering, this causes the needles to turn brown and drop.
Pruning and training
Pruning and training a Christmas tree is a simple process and it goes a long way towards keeping your tree healthy. However, the main reason is usually to retain the traditional Christmas tree shape as most types don’t naturally grow this way on their own.
Any new growth that interferes with the traditional Christmas tree shape can be cut away and any branches that are dead or unhealthy can be cut off to stop the spread of disease.
Pruning and training in this fashion every few weeks will ensure you have the perfect, quintessential Christmas tree come December that can be decorated outdoors.
I wouldn’t recommend digging it up again to bring it indoors as it usually won’t survive being re-planted again after Christmas.
Types of real Christmas trees
There are different types of real Christmas trees out there, so you don’t have to pick just one. The top 5 varieties that are usually sold by most garden centres and nurseries include:
- Norway Spruce
- Fraser Fir
- Nordman Fir
- Pine Tree
- Blue Spruce
No matter the variety, once you have planted the tree and the following Christmas arrives, it is time to dig up the tree and bring it inside to be decorated or to leave it outside and decorate it in the yard. If you grow your tree and bring it inside, the dramatic changes in temperature and any potential root damage will likely kill it. Growing just for the sake of bringing it inside the next season is perfectly fine, and you can replace the tree with a new container-grown Christmas tree annually. Of course, you can always enjoy the enchanting and otherwise festive outdoor decor if you leave it in the garden.