My aunt, who moved to Danville in a ‘downsized’ home, wanted a Christmas tree, but had little room for a full size one, and little energy to fully decorate one. So she looked to the living trees at her local nursery. That was a brilliant plan! She chose a dwarf Alberta spruce, which we then helped her keep alive outdoors in a larger pot for many years. We would bring it in her home for the week preceding Christmas, then place it back on her patio for the rest of the year.
Let me share the tips we followed to keep the tree healthy, then I’ll share with you alternative species available now in your local nurseries. Some might surprise you!
We minimized the tree’s indoor time to a week to 10 days at the most
We made sure to water the tree well before bringing it into her home
She protected her floor with a cork trivet underneath a large saucer that held the potted tree, eliminating the threat of condensation on her hardwood floors
When it did need water, between deep waterings, she would place a tray of slowly melting ice cubes on the soil surface
The tree was placed near a window, but away from the fireplace and heating vents
She only decorated with light-weight ornaments and a small string of LED lights
Then right after the Christmas festivities back to the garden it went—we re-potted it, when needed, during the years she had it
An alternative to keeping the tree as a container planting or planting directly into the soil in your garden, would be to donate it to a local school, park or church garden (with permission of course!)
The following are some typical living Christmas Tree possibilities that I discover at East Bay Nursery, in Berkeley, this week:
White Spruce: Picea glauca ‘Rainbow’s End’ (height 3-4’ in 10 years, a true dwarf!)
Horstmann’s Korean Fir: Abies koreana ‘Horstmann’s Silberlocke’, ultimately 4-6’ tall and wide
Colorado Spruce: Picea pungens (height to 6’ tall in the nursery right now, but plant it in the garden and it will grow to 30-60’ tall and 10-20’ wide)
Norfolk Island Pine: Araucaria heterophylla, graceful and about 4’ tall now, but if planted in the landscape wants to be a 60’ tall and 20’ wide tree—yikes!
And also many other Arborvitaes, Cedars and Giant Sequoias, which you need to step back and watch grow if planted in the landscape after their Christmas tree display.
Here is a list of some alternatives that Alden Lane Nursery, in Livermore, suggest:
Citrus—which are already decorated with fruit during the winter
Japanese maples (just brought in from Oregon in wonderful fall color)
Strawberry Tree: Arbutus unedo, whose branches already have red and orange ‘hanging ornaments’
Holly shrubs, with their bright red berries
Camellias, especially Camellia ‘Yuletide’, aptly named for it’s simple bright red blooms in December
Fruiting olive trees
Spiral clipped Boxwood
Grecian Laurel: makes a beautiful container plant, and useful for seasoning year round.
Rosemary—especially the upright or semi-upright—easy to keep in a pyramidal shape while using the leaves in cooking (all rosemaries are edible, the upright ones have the best flavor for culinary use)