Using and Planting a Living Christmas Tree Adds Appeal to Home Landscape and Memories of the Season

By University of Mo. Extension

First posted on 12-11-2014

A living Christmas tree is a wonderful way to celebrate the Christmas holiday and then later celebrate the memory of special times spent with family and friends according to Patrick Byers, a horticulture specialist with University of Missouri Extension.

Planting a live Christmas tree outdoors can offer appeal and added value to the home landscape,” said Byers. “Proper selection and handling will ensure that the tree will make the transition successfully into the outdoors.”

However, before planting a living Christmas tree, some preparations and precautions should be taken to increase chances of tree survival.

“Be sure you have a suitable site for planting the tree. Heavy clay soils are not ideal for planting most evergreen trees because they will not tolerate wet feet,” said Byers.

As a result, some special soil preparation may be needed. The only practical solution is to create a berm or mound of topsoil to assure good drainage.

“It is also important to have enough space for the tree to grow. Pines or spruces should be planted no closer than 25 feet from other trees, unless they are planted in a row as a windbreak,” said Byers.

Full sun will help a good tree shape as it matures. Good air circulation will help reduce the incidence of needle diseases and blights.

The best Christmas tree species for planting that are also available locally are the Norway spruce, white pine, white fir and Black Hills spruce.

Most nurseries will have these either as container grown trees (which are easier to move around) or balled and burlapped trees.

According to Byers, there are also a few special precautions that should be followed to maximize the chances that the living Christmas tree will survive after planting.

Place the tree in an area outside that is shady and protected from extreme cold when it arrives from the nursery.

Bring the tree inside two or three days before Christmas to enjoy but move it back outside within seven days. Make sure to water the tree while it is indoors. Warm, low humidity environment in the house causes excessive moisture loss from the foliage and the soil ball.

“You may want to dig the hole prior to bringing the tree into the house. The hole should be about 2-3 times the diameter of the soil ball, but no deeper,” said Byers.

He also recommends covering the excavated soil with a tarp to keep the soil from being too wet when planting the tree after Christmas.

“After Christmas, plant the tree immediately if the weather permits. If not, be certain to place the tree in an unheated garage and do not allow the tree root ball to dry out,” said Byers. “Once you have it in the ground, protect the root system from frost heaving by mulching the tree with a thick layer of mulch.”

University of Missouri Extension programs focus on the high-priority needs of Missourians. Each county extension center, with oversight by locally elected and appointed citizens, is your local link to practical education on almost anything.