Live Christmas Trees
Douglas L. Airhart & Guy Zimmerman III

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Right Tree / Right Place

Selecting Trees

Transplanting Trees

Mulching & Staking

Summary Diagram 

Pruning Trees

Topping Hurts!

Protecting Trees

Tree Root Myths

Pine Bark Beetles

Live Christmas Trees


List of Figures

List of Video Vignettes

Related Links



  Selecting Live Christmas Trees: Video Vignette (See it live)!

We visited a live Christmas tree farm in Middle Tennessee, and spoke with Mr. Doug Farley, tree farmer. There are white pines and spruces that are balled and burlapped live trees grown at local tree farms. The trees are dug about Thanksgiving to stay fresh for Christmas.

Using live trees to celebrate Christmas has a few advantages over cut trees. Primarily, the tree can be planted in your landscape and become a living memorial to your Christmas history. With adequate moisture in the root ball the needles continue to look fresh during the holidays. Whether or not you expect to transplant it into your landscape, a live tree is a much lower fire hazard than a cut tree.

(Figure 12-1) Adequate Root Mass for Tree. 

B&B specimen has been placed in a container for easier handling. White balling twine is visible and the burlap is in my hand.

In order to select a good tree, take a close look at the root ball. A four-foot tall tree should have a ball at least 18 inches wide, but a bigger ball is better for transplanting the tree. The tree should be firmly attached at the ball, and not wobble at the top of the ball. Be sure that the ball has been kept adequately moist since harvest. If the tree is not fresh, or the root ball has been allowed to dry, the needles will pull out from the stem. Gently cup your hand over the center portion of a branch and slide it to the end. Only a few, if any, needles should pull out into your hand.

Another feature to examine if you intend to plant the tree in your landscape is the tips of the branches. The trees are heavily sheared every year starting when they are seedlings. The shearing develops dense branches and needles, and produces well-shaped trees. On healthy branches at the tops and sides of the tree you should see live buds at the end. If the tree was sheared too late there will be no live buds and there will be no new growth next season.

Protect the health of the tree by keeping the ball moist during the holidays. Purchase a bucket suitable to hold the ball firmly, perhaps at the local farmerís co-op. A tight-fitting bucket will hold the tree upright (probably easier than putting a cut tree on a tree stand) and it will hold water to keep the ball moist. A large tree can easily absorb up to a gallon of water per day in the warm, dry conditions inside.  

Post-Holiday Care 

When the tree was harvested it was beginning to go dormant. After four or five weeks indoors, it will be reacting to the warmth as if it were spring an may be starting to grow. It is not recommended to take that tree suddenly outside into the cold weather before transplanting. Wait for a warm day to move the tree to a barn or covered outdoor area to adjust to cold weather. The tree needs to be acclimated for about two to three weeks to readjust back to dormancy. 

If you live where winter conditions are harsh enough to freeze the soil, you will need to store the tree until it can be transplanted. An alternative method would be to dig an appropriate size hole soon after buying the tree, but definitely before the soil freezes. The tree can be transplanted into the pre-dug hole after it has been acclimated to the outdoors. Be sure to keep the root mass adequately moist for at least the next year, even in the winter. See our section on transplanting trees.


Purpose    Right Tree / Right Place    Selecting Trees    Transplanting Trees    Mulching & Staking    Summary Diagram     Pruning Trees    Topping Hurts!      Protecting Trees     Tree Root Myths     Pine Bark Beetles     Live Christmas Trees     Glossary     List of Figures    List of Video Vignettes    Related Links     Bibliography is maintained by: Douglas Airhart, Ph.D. Certified Arborist & Jeff Plant, Ph.D, Last Updated on: 07/11/03