Buy the right Christmas tree and never have to buy one again

Christmas trees Green Fingered Blog
A tree should be for life, not just for Christmas. A real tree, in a pot, is best for the environment, and your pocket.

How to keep your Christmas tree alive forever

Are you buying a Christmas tree to decorate your home this festive season? If so, I urge you, if at all possible, to buy a real one. In a pot. It is the most sustainable option, and will also save you money - you never need to buy another Christmas tree again. And it's easier to look after than you think. If you're worried that you won't be able to keep it alive, I've got some simple tips to help you. 

Why choose a real Christmas tree?

A fake plastic tree is not a sustainable option. The plastic is made from fossil fuels, which are a finite resource, and a significant amount of energy is used in their manufacture, which also generates carbon emissions. According to a Forestry Commission report, "real trees use about 10 times fewer materials and five times less energy than artificial trees".  

The vast majority of plastic trees are made in China, and travel halfway around the world to get here, on huge ships powered by more fossil fuels. What happens when they reach the end of their life is also a concern, with the reported effects of small particles of plastic on ocean life when waste escapes into the water system.  

You can now buy artificial trees made of recycled materials. This must be a preferred option if you really don't have enough space outside to keep a tree in a pot for the rest of the year. However, even the process of recycling plastics and turning them into trees uses plenty of energy - much more than it takes to water and feed a growing tree. Although re-using waste materials, it will still create carbon emissions, like most industrial processes. 

Why buy a Christmas tree in a pot?

According to The Guardian, 6-8million real Christmas trees are sold in the UK every year.  Approximately 160,000 tonnes of tree end up in landfill in the UK once the festive season is over. Wikipedia reports that up to 40 million trees are sold in the USA.
Many of these are cut trees, sawn off at their base and stood in water in order to keep them alive for a few weeks. Buy the time you buy them, they are already effectively dying, so it's hardly surprising if they shed their needles all over your living room floor. Their death is merely being delayed and after Christmas, many of these trees end up in landfill, costing local authorities money in processing and tax. 
Grow your own Christmas trees Green Fingered Blog
Cut Christmas trees are already dying when you buy them
Dead trees can be chipped, shredded, and recycled as compost or mulch, and although this is a better outcome than landfill, it still uses energy, costs money and takes time. A dying plant releases methane (a greenhouse gas) as it decomposes, whereas a living, growing tree is absorbing carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen into the air, so has to be better for the environment.

Buying a pot-grown tree is cheaper in the long run and more sustainable. It can be re-used year after year, and will keep growing, using very few resources and benefitting the environment rather than damaging it. A healthy, living tree is also likely to shed fewer needles on your floor!
Grow your own Christmas tree Green Fingered Blog
A pot grown tree makes sense

Make sure you buy a pot grown tree

GREEN FINGERS TIP: Make sure you buy a "Pot-Grown" tree and not just any tree in a pot. Trees grown in a field, then dug up and stuffed in a pot, often too small, are more likely to struggle in your living room, drop their needles and die. A tree grown in a pot for most of it's life is much easier to look after and re-use for many years to come.
The difference between a potted tree and a pot-grown tree is worth paying attention to. Judging by this sign I saw this week in a major UK garden centre chain, the retailers don't expect even their potted trees to last, advising you to turn it into decorations in twelve months time! Either that or they expect you to buy another tree for next Christmas, and then plant that one out, and then another one the year after that. Of course they want to sell as many trees as possible, but do you really want to end up with your own plantation of fir trees in your garden, by planting a new one out each year?
Grow your own Christmas Tree Green Fingered Blog
Are they really expecting you to buy a new tree every year?

Which type of Christmas tree should I buy?

So a pot-grown tree is what you're after, but which one? Well that's a matter of taste. I don't even know what species mine is, I've had it that long! I think it's the traditional Norway spruce. You can choose your tree for its blue or green coloured needles, of different sizes and shapes, or look for what you consider the best "Christmas tree shape". You may want scent, or symmetry. But most people want one that won't drop it's needles. Now despite what you may see, there is no such thing as "no-drop" variety. Even healthy trees in good growing conditions shed needles naturally. But some do so more than others, and some withstand the unnatural indoor conditions at Christmas. I found this handy run down of the main species from the Daily Telegraph site.  

How to look after your Christmas tree

Once you've chosen your variety, and checked it's pot-grown rather than just potted, check out these tips for keeping it happy, so it doesn't lose too many needles and can be used again year after year: 

Keep your Christmas tree in as large a pot as possible

Be generous to your tree. Give it as big a pot as you can so it has room to grow. You might need to pot it up every few years, but be careful when moving it. The bigger the pot the trickier it is to move in and out each festive season.
Grow your own Christmas tree Green Fingered Blog


Put your Christmas tree in the right place

When you bring it inside for Christmas, avoid putting your tree too close to any heat source like the fire or a radiator. Being too close will dry your tree out and that means - you guessed it - needles all over the floor. But give it as much light as you can by putting it near a window if possible. 
For the rest of the year your tree needs to be outside, ideally somewhere in partial shade. Being in a pot means it will dry out if it's in too sunny a position. The prickly needles are another reason for tucking it a bit out of the way if you can. 


Avoid giving your Christmas tree a shock when you bring it indoors

It's really important to transition your tree to life indoors. If you have a cool greenhouse, conservatory, porch, or even a shed, move it there for a week or two before subjecting it to a centrally heated room. I've inherited a poorly constructed utility room that is rather cold and draughty at this time of year, so my tree spends a fortnight in there as a halfway house between inside and outside.

When you bring your tree inside, give it some feed, and water it. I use slow release food granules and this is a good time to add some, and it will help it cope with the transition. The better it copes, the fewer needles it will shed. After a transition period, you can bring it right inside when you want to put up all your decorations.


Water your Christmas tree correctly

Getting the watering right will massively help your tree keep its needles and stay healthy enough to survive the time it spends inside. They are quite thirsty plants, so water them well. Avoid them drying out but do not let them sit in water. You'll need a saucer under the pot so that the water doesn't seep across your floor, and the saucer shouldn't contain any water except immediately after watering. But try and keep the compost slightly moist.

For the rest of the year, you want to keep your tree just moist, again not allowing it to dry out. For much of the year this might be straightforward - it certainly is in Cardiff - particularly if you find it a slightly shady position out of full sun. But in summer you might need to water regularly.  


Avoid giving your Christmas tree a shock when you put it back outdoors

After Christmas, move your tree back to whatever halfway house you used to transition it indoors a few weeks earlier. Then after it's had a couple of weeks in this cooler place, move it back outside and give it another feed. January is the time to prune it to encourage the shape you want, and feeding it will help it respond to this with fresh growth. I love seeing brand new lime green shoots appearing in late January or February, as this shows the tree has survived the tinsel, central heating and needle drop, and is ready to grow on in its quiet corner of the garden until called upon again next December.
Grow your own Christmas tree Green Fingered Blog
Fresh green shoots on my Christmas tree last winter
There are already plenty of things about Christmas that are repeated year after year after year, whether you like them or not. Buying a Christmas tree doesn't have to be one of them. Make it a once in a lifetime event. This year, buy a real, pot-grown tree, and never have to buy one again.
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  1. I never thought of having a potted Christmas tree. We have a small fake one. Next year I'll have to do some research to see what kind of live trees will thrive best here in our mild climate. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Good luck. Let me know what you choose. I reckon there are lots of conifers that are growing well in the wild in Mediterranean/Californian climates so you should have plenty to choose from. And of course by keeping it in a pot you can control its environment a little bit anyway, by giving extra moisture etc if necessary. I'll be interested to see what you can find.

  2. Can you prune a Christmas tree grown in a pot?

    1. Certainly. In fact this will at some point be essential to keep it small enough to stay in a pot. Best to give it a light trim every year after it goes back outside, and feed it afterwards to encourage new growth (see above). Good luck!


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