Living Christmas tree: enjoy inside, then plant outside

living Christmas tree
Decorate it and enjoy it for a week. Then plant this living Christmas tree outside and enjoy it for years. Photo courtesy Urban Roots Cooperative Garden Market

by Connie Oswald Stofko

One way to make Christmas last a little longer is by buying a living Christmas tree. You can decorate it, enjoy it inside, then plant it outside where it will grow for years to come.

Living Christmas trees are available now at at Urban Roots Cooperative Garden Market, 428 Rhode Island St. Buffalo.

“We have three or four families who come in every year,” said Patti Jablonski-Dopkin, general manager of Urban Roots. “You’d think kids would want the biggest Christmas tree, but they love that these are alive and they’re going to get to plant it. I’m always surprised by that. They think it’s cool that they can plant it and watch it grow.”

Some people have property out in the country and line their landscape with the trees, she said.

If you want to re-green the world, buying a living Christmas tree is one way you can help, even if you don’t have a spot for that tree in your yard. Urban Roots can recommend an organization where your tree can find a good home, such as Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper, Grassroots Gardens WNY or Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy.

Other people like to buy a living Christmas tree so they can plant it as a reminder of something significant that happened in their life. If this was a year full of struggle for you, a living Christmas tree might be a symbol of resilience.

Important: Only a week inside

While you can buy living Christmas trees now, you can have them inside your home for only a week to 10 days.

At this time of year, the trees are going into dormancy, explained Jablonski-Dopkin. If they stay warm for too long, they may think it’s time to break dormancy.

Right now, the trees are outside at Urban Roots, and you’ll keep your tree outside as well. Then you have to slowly acclimate your tree to the warmer temperature of your house. One or two days before you take it inside, set your tree in an unheated garage, sun porch or breezeway.

After you have enjoyed it inside for a week or so, put it back into an unheated space for several days before planting it outside.

If you like to set up your Christmas tree early and display it for a long time, a living tree isn’t for you. You’re better off with a cut tree, she said. There’s nothing wrong with cut Christmas trees; they are crops that are grown to be harvested.

Kinds of trees available at Urban Roots

The living Christmas trees at Urban Roots are grown locally on a farm outside Springville.

All of the specimens are about four feet tall.

They come in a cloth bag with handles, which makes them easier to transport. That’s good, because with all that dirt, they’re heavy.

Urban Roots carries six varieties:

  • Canaan fir (long needles)
  • Concolor fir (long needles)
  • Fraser fir (medium needles)
  • Norway spruce (short needles)
  • Traditional white spruce (short needles)
  • White spruce ‘Montrose Charm’ (short needles)

The first four trees grow 30 to 50 feet tall with a 20-foot spread. The traditional white spruce grows even taller– 100 feet.

If you have a small lot, or if you just don’t want a giant tree, Jablonski-Dopkin suggests the white spruce ‘Montrose Charm’, which grows about 20 feet high and 6 to 10 feet wide.

“It’s a more usable landscape tree,” she said.

The trees range in price from $50 to $85.

Caring for living Christmas trees

You’ll need to water your tree while it’s inside. Urban Roots has a red plastic bag you can pop the cloth bag into to catch leaks. Or if you have a large pot, you could put the cloth bag into that, Jablonski-Dopkin said.

You can plant your tree after Christmas. Dig a hole for your tree now before the ground freezes.

If you aren’t prepared to plant your tree now, keep it outside, close to your house. Water as needed until everything freezes. Start watering the potted tree again in the spring after the soil thaws.

Keep watering your tree throughout the growing season.

See more instructions from Urban Roots on caring for living Christmas trees here.

Coming soon: Norfolk pines

While they resemble pines (hence the name), Norfolk pines are actually tropical plants. You can decorate them for the holidays, then keep them all year as a houseplant.

Urban Roots will have Norfolk pines in tabletop sizes (one to two feet tall) and larger specimens (three to four feet tall). They range in price from $10 to $45, depending on the size.

They are scheduled to arrive after Thanksgiving.

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