live-root christmas tree

The purchase and care of a live-root Christmas tree

What makes this holiday special? Whether it’s the first Christmas in a new home, a visit from distant family, baby’s first Christmas, or any other important milestones you want to remember, a live-root Christmas tree can commemorate those moments for years to come. Bringing a live-root tree indoors for the holidays may be more work than a cut tree, but with a few simple preparations and proper care, these winter-planted trees can thrive for many years.


Live-root Christmas trees versus cut trees

At this time of year, your live-root Christmas tree will be in winter dormancy. This is important, as it will only survive for a week to ten days (maximum!) indoors before the warmth of your home will encourage it to come out of dormancy. At this point, your tree will begin to act as if spring has come, and if you plant it outside, the shock of winter will very likely kill it.

On the other hand, your evergreen requires cool temperatures and a winter dormancy period in order to thrive. Do not try to keep it indoors until spring. Keep your live root tree indoors for as short a period of time as you can, and move it to a cooler location as soon as the holidays have passed.

If you want to secure your live-root Christmas tree early, leave it outside your home until you are ready to bring it in and decorate it. You may also leave it in an unheated garage where it will remain dormant as long as temperatures stay below approximately 50 degrees. Remember, you only have about a week (ten days maximum) before the tree comes out of dormancy, so plan accordingly.


Choosing the right live-root Christmas tree

Research your tree and know where you will plant it before making your purchase. Although your live-root Christmas tree may be small to start, many grow quite tall and require a large footprint over time (remember, evergreens grow wider at the base than the top). Spruces, particularly Blue, Norway and Alberta spruces, grow well in our area, and they also have the traditional Christmas tree shape, but some varieties grow large and all require a minimum of eight hours of full sun a day.

Fraser or Balsam firs are popular cut trees, but do not thrive well in our area. They prefer long, cold winters, and are often grown in Canada. For that reason, many garden centers in our area will not sell live-root versions of these popular Christmas trees. For those willing to think outside of the box, there are a number of other evergreen options available at Glenwild Gardens. Jodie suggests holly, boxwood or specialty trees like Cryptomerias which can bring the Christmas spirit indoors and will thrive in our area, even if they are untraditional for decorating.

Getting your tree home

To bring your tree home, you’ll need a hand truck or dolly, or at least a helping hand (or two). This is important, because your live-root Christmas tree is not only going to be significantly more heavy than the cut tree you are used to, but it will already be stressed from being removed from the ground, being transported to the garden center, and then to your home. It will need some extra care to ensure it arrives undamaged.

Place your tree in one of the coolest places in your home. Do not put your tree next to a heater or fireplace. This is good advice for cut trees, as well, but Jodie reminds you that the stakes are slightly higher here, as this is not just seasonal, but a lifetime investment. 

If you are accustomed to large Christmas trees, realize that your live-root tree will probably be much smaller. However, the root ball will add significant height, weight and width, meaning a four foot live-root Christmas tree may take up as much room as a six foot cut tree. Be sure to plan accordingly.

Because your tree will likely come with a big ball of dirt, you’ll want to make sure to secure a container that can fit the root ball, and keep it upright. Be prepared to get creative in this endeavor, as the root ball may not be perfectly flat. 

Whether using a plastic or galvanized steel tub, the goal of your container is to keep the root ball contained, and to keep your house clean and dry while retaining moisture. Check the tree daily with a “finger check” to determine if the tree needs watering. Do not let the soil get dry, but do not allow standing water in the bottom of the container, either.


Transitioning your tree to the yard

Once you’ve researched your tree and chosen its spot in your yard, dig the hole before the ground freezes. The hole should be approximately 2-3 feet deep, and just as wide (or as close as you can manage) to allow room for both the root ball, plus space to mix in some compost with the native soil.  

If you didn’t prepare ahead of time and the ground is too frozen to dig a hole, you may want to try transitioning the tree from indoors to an unheated room like a shed or garage. This is also an option if you are concerned about the exposure of your chosen location, or are otherwise worried about your tree surviving the winter. 

Either way, if your tree is not in the ground, be sure to insulate and protect the roots as much as possible with mulch or layers of burlap around the root ball or pot.


Why are live-root trees more expensive?

A live-root Christmas tree will undoubtedly cost more than a cut tree. This is because in addition to receiving the same care as a cut tree, live root trees must also be removed from the ground, the root ball secured, and then transported. Moving a live-root tree is significantly more work than moving a tree without roots… the root ball can add up to several feet of height, and many more pounds of weight. Remember, in addition to roots, you’re hauling soil, too. 

This is also important to remember for when you bring your tree home, into your house, then back outside and into the ground.

Ultimately, live-root trees require more manual labor and higher shipping costs due to weight and space considerations. And that’s before your tree even makes it to the Garden Center! Once there, its maintenance will require more time and care than a typical cut Christmas tree. All of this results in a higher price tag.

The tradeoff is that if taken care of properly, your live-root tree will provide you and your family years of joy. The same tree can be decorated from year-to-year where it lives in your yard, and you’ll always have a reminder of the memories of your special holiday where it was the center of attention.


Tips for handling your live-root Christmas

  • Moving your tree into and through your house puts your tree at risk of becoming damaged or stressed. Take care not to loosen the soil around the roots by pulling on the trunk. Instead, move it by the bottom and try to keep as many of the small roots intact as possible. Keep the root ball inside the burlap or pot it came in as well. 
  • After the holiday, try to acclimate the tree in an outside shed or unheated garage before planting it. If there’s a warm spell, you can just move it out!
  • Once in the ground, keep the tree well watered until the ground becomes frozen. Soaking it once a week should be sufficient. Once the ground is frozen, you can leave it be until spring. 
  • Live root evergreens, as well as cut Christmas trees are now available for purchase at Glenwild Garden Center.

By Glenwild Gardens