How to Choose and Care for a Living Christmas Tree

Caring for a Live Tree

While your tree is acclimating to the indoors, inspect it from top to bottom. Remove and destroy any insects or egg clusters you find. One common pest is the gypsy moth, whose eggs are brown and wooly-looking and will be stuck to the stem or branches. You may want to spray the tree with an antiwilt or antidessicant product, such as Wilt Pruf.

  • Water the root ball lightly.
  • If your tree is balled-and-burlapped, you’ll need to place it in a watertight tub or large planter. Place gravel in the bottom to prevent the tree from sitting in water. Stabilize the tree by placing bricks or other weighty material around the bottom, and pack the remaining space with mulch or straw to hold in moisture.
  • If your tree is planted in a container, put a tray or decorative planter under it to catch excess water.
  • Keep the roots moist, but not soaked, and never add plant food or fertilizer, which would stimulate growth.
  • Decorate your tree as usual, but use miniature or LED lights that don’t put off much heat. Avoid spraying on artificial snow, flocking, or paint products.

Use miniature or LED lights to minimize burning of needles.

Planting a Tree

After you’ve enjoyed your tree indoors, it’s time to move it back to the garage to acclimate to the cold for a few days before planting. In regions with severe winter temperatures, many gardeners dig the hole during the fall, before the ground freezes. The fill dirt is then covered with a tarp or moved to a sheltered area to keep it soft.

The ideal planting site will have full sun, well-drained soil, and should be large enough to accommodate the tree when fully mature. When planting:

  1. Dig the planting hole the same depth as the root ball, and 2-3 times as wide. If you have chosen a good planting spot, you shouldn’t need to add organic material.
  2. Remove the container or wrapping, and gently loosen any roots that are growing in a tight circle.
  3. Place the tree in the hole, making sure it is at the same depth as the soil around the root ball.
  4. Back fill the planting hole, stopping every few inches to tamp down the soil firmly to remove air pockets.
  5. Water the tree well, and add several inches of mulch after the ground freezes.
  6. Add stakes if needed, to hold your tree upright. If severe cold and wind is in your winter forecast, you may want to put up a burlap windscreen to protect your young tree. A windscreen can be easily made by attaching burlap to plant stakes.

The tiny cones on Japanese Cedar make it a unique Christmas tree option.

Caring for a Planted Tree

Your tree should remain dormant until spring. Water occasionally, particularly during a thaw, and check it regularly to see that it is upright and not drying out. In the spring, you should see signs of new growth that lets you know your living tree has begun its new life outdoors!

Further Information


  1. Check the tree at the nursery or side of the road vendor BEFORE you buy it. You want to be sure there is a nice trunk flare; imagine a really old oak tree (or any other). The base should not look like a telephone pole going into the ground, but rather have an increase in diameter, then you should see where the trunk turns into roots. You may have to dig in the soil a little to find the trunk flare; don’t be afraid to do so… it does not hurt the plants. Once you find the trunk flare, be sure there are no roots circling the trunk; if there are some small ones, they can be cut at the time of planting, but large ones are, well, just too large to cut. If you cannot find a satisfory trunk flare, do not buy it. The roots that wrap around the trunk are termed girdling roots – this is akin to leaving a collar on a puppy, then as the pup grows into a dog, the collar will choke it; girdling roots choke the tree and will cause all sorts of problems resulting in a slow, painful death.

    * ISA Certified Arborist
    * Alabama State Licensed:
    – Tree Surgeon
    – Landscape Designer
    – Landscape Contractor
    – Pest Control Supervisor

    Chris Francis Landscapes

  2. (enjoy your show.). I noticed our Black Hills Spruce Christmas tree is producing new growth :). I wish it had roots! :(. Happy New Year!


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