I love a live Christmas tree; in fact I absolutely refuse to have a plastic one in the house. But I do find the hassle of either picking up a pre-cut, or going and cutting a live tree in those weeks leading up to Christmas a hassle I could do without. Then there is the difficulty of getting rid of the dying tree once the festive season is complete. I am also concerned about the sustainability of cutting down, then throwing a way a live tree each year.
To get around these issues, several years ago decided to experiment with growing a range of plants in containers that I use as Christmas trees.
It is really easy – they are decorative additions to the terrace during the year and then I bring one inside for a couple of weeks over Christmas, decorate them and pop them back outside the beginning of January.
What I needed to consider:
I am in a cool climate so tended to look at conifers.
This is the list of suitable varieties I came up with:
Thuja orientalis cultivars
Picea pungen s “Glauca”
Cupressus sempervirens “Gracilis
Chamaecyparis lawsoniana “Pembury Blue”
Juniperrus scopulorum “Blue Arrow”
The ones in bold are the ones I have trialled with the “Prembury Blue” being big enough to use this year.
I have also tried Buxus sempervirens. These do well in a cool climate and are about the toughest potted plants I have ever come across. I have trimmed it into a pyramid shape to make it look like a Christmas tree. They are easy to propagate by cutting but do take a long time to grow. The one below is nearly ten years old. They take a long time to get tall but make a great small tree. Generally before Christmas there are advance plants of Buxus, already shaped, in the nursery along with other live Christmas trees. They might seem a frightful price but in reality the cost is only several years of purchasing a cut tree.
If you live in a warmer climate many of the above conifers will do well but you could also try:
Norfolk Island pine
Shaped Lillypillies ( Acmena or syzigiums)
Shaped Buxus microphylla varieties
Maintaining your containerised tree.
If you have gone to the expense of buying a containerised Christmas tree, you need to make sure you look after it so you can use it year after year.
• Water it regularly. Apply wetting agents during warmer months.
• Apply fertiliser during growing season. I use a liquid all-purpose fertiliser applied every fortnight from September to march.
• Prune as necessary.
• Repot every two to three years.
For more info see my blog on Growing citrus in containers . This will give you lots of hints for growing a containerised plant. Most of this information is suitable for the above species.
For tips on repotting watch my YouTube video here.
Whist your tree is inside- water regularly -at least once a week. Once it has finished it duty as a Christmas tree pop it into the shade when you first put in back outside and gradually acclimatise it to more sun till it can go back into full sun conditions.
Note: Buxus will grow quite well in shade, though it will not grow as quickly as it would in full sun.
Trimming of the Buxus. The trick is to shape the plant from early age and encourage new growth. I start liquid feeding with a high nitrogen ratio fertiliser in September to encourage new growth then trim end October or early November. I continue to feed through the growing season and re-trim at the end of March. You could do the same for Lillipillies.
Conifer and Norfolk pines can be trimmed during winter and fertilised early spring to produce a healthy flush of new growth for the festive season- remember most conifers cannot be pruned into old wood so a little trimming each year, only cutting into green growth, will allow you to maintain the plants shape and size for many years.
Warning: Although it is often tempting to plant your containerised Christmas tree in the garden after a few years and replace it with a new one, please make sure you research the size and shape of the tree and plant it in an appropriate position. Picea abies is often sold as a Christmas tree and makes a great containerised tree, but if planted in the ground can reach 50 meters, Norfolk pines the same. These trees are certainly not suited to the average backyard so best to maintain them a potted plant.
Why not plan ahead this year and start growing a potted tree that will makes an attractive ornamental pot plant during the year and can be brought inside and decorated for the festive season. There should be plenty of live trees in nurseries at reduced prices after Christmas so now is a great opportunity to get started.