Living Christmas trees are truly green

It is time for my annual plea to consider having a living Christmas tree. Having a living tree takes a commitment to reduce the time the tree can be indoors compared to a cut tree, and to care for it in a timely manner. Once you've had a living tree, it's hard to go back to a cut tree. They have a way of growing on you, if you do it right.

The first point to consider is whether a living tree is right for you. Many of the trees used as living Christmas trees grow to be quite large specimens. Trees that reach 60 feet and up are the norm. Be sure that you have the room for a tree of this size on your lot. If not, and you would still prefer to not have a cut tree that just gets turned into mulch after use, you may be able to find friends, neighbors or organizations who would love to have your tree for planting. Determine this ahead of time, if possible.

Since living trees are sold with roots and soil attached, they can present a weighty problem when it comes to moving them around.

The smaller the tree, the easier it will be to transport and get in and out of your home without breaking your back or damaging your flooring. Having a hand truck or dolly and either some cardboard or protective cloth to slide the tree on will prevent injury and scratches.

You'll need to provide water to the tree while it is indoors. Approximately one quart each day should be sufficient for the average tree. Excess water that runs out of the pot should be caught in a saucer or similar device. You will most likely want some form of camouflage for the container to make it more in line with the holiday season. Try some fabric in bright red or maybe one with a holiday theme. Waterproof is better.

Next, we have to select the type of tree we would like. Almost any needled evergreen will survive indoors in a cool room in a draft-free location for two weeks. If you raise the temperature, and the time inside should be shortened. I have successfully kept a Norway spruce inside for three weeks, but I wouldn't recommend any longer. Douglas firs are tough trees with strong branches that will support many ornaments. I personally love the different types of spruces for their dense branching habit, short needles and ability to display many ornaments. They are very prickly and may be uncomfortable for some to decorate.

Pines also make respectable trees if you don't mind the Charlie Brown references you're likely to hear from visitors. They are not heavily branched in small sizes and will not hold a large number of decorations. Regardless of the type of tree you choose, be sure to stay away from flocking and tinsel. Both are hard to completely remove and are dangerous to wildlife when planted outdoors. Use only small mini-lights to avoid the warmth that large bulbs emit. The danger of the dormant buds starting to grow is much greater with the big bulbs, increasing the risk that new buds will freeze when the tree is retuned to the outdoors.

If you have a breezeway or space in your unheated garage, you may want to acclimate your tree for 24 to 48 hours before bringing it indoors. That will lessen the shock of the tree going into the warm house. It's nice to be able to do the same thing after the tree is returned to the outdoors. This step is not absolutely necessary, but it is a nice practice if it isn't too inconvenient. Never take the tree directly out of the warm interior environment if we are in the grips of a very cold spell. It would be better to wait a few days before returning the tree outside until frigid weather had passed.

Living Christmas trees are a bit more work than a cut tree, but the benefits far outweigh the disadvantages, in my opinion. Soon, you'll be wishing everyone a "green" Christmas!

Stan Mapolski, aka The Rogue Gardener, can be heard from 9-11 a.m. Sunday mornings on KMED 1440 AM and seen in periodic gardening segments for KTVL Channel 10 News. Reach him at

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