Displaying a live Christmas tree in a decorative pot or planter is a "green" alternative to cutting the tree, which kills it. The greatest obstacle to this option is overcoming the top-heaviness that can cause a tree and planter to topple. A live tree, which comes with its root ball wrapped in burlap, must be anchored well in a planter, a process that relies on proper weight balance and planter size. The planter should measure at least two-thirds the diameter of the tree canopy's base and one and one-half to two times the root ball's height. A short, compact Christmas tree is easier to anchor than a tall, wide tree.
Things You'll Need
Timer, watch or clock
Rocks or gravel
Potting soil or sphagnum peat moss, finished compost and sand, perlite or vermiculite
1-by-1-inch lumber or 3/4-inch rebar (optional)
Hydraulic bolt cutter, angle grinder or saw with metal blade (optional)
Rubber mallet (optional)
Nylon webbing (optional)
Trim and/or remove the live Christmas tree's low branches so the base of its canopy is uniform and roughly 6 to 12 inches of space is between the top of the tree's root ball and the lowest branches. A pruning saw works well for trimming large branches while loppers work well for smaller branches. Disinfect your pruning tools before their use in a solution that is 1 part bleach and 9 parts water. Soak the tools' blades in the solution for about 10 minutes to kill bacteria, scrub them gently with a cleaning cloth and wipe them dry with a clean towel.
Place rocks or gravel in the bottom of a planter, filling one-fourth to one-third of it. The exact amount of rocks or gravel to use depends on the height of the tree's root ball height and the planter's height. Leave enough empty space in the planter to accommodate the root ball's height plus a few inches. Rocks and gravel aid in drainage and make the planter even heavier than it would be if it were filled with only potting soil.
Remove the burlap wrapping from the Christmas tree's root ball, and loosen the soil in the root ball. Place the tree in the planter, and fill the empty space with clean potting soil. Use a bagged potting soil or make your own by combining equal portions of sphagnum peat moss, finished compost and sand, perlite or vermiculite. The planter's soil should be flush with the top of the root ball. Do not put soil on top of the root ball. Pack the soil well to help hold the tree upright. Fill the planter to its top with a 1- to 2-inch-thick layer of mulch. Mulch helps retain moisture in the soil and makes a more attractive presentation.
Determine whether or not the tree is unsteady and should be staked to hold it upright in the planter. Measure the planter's height if you want to stake the tree, and add 18 to 24 inches to that measurement. Cut one or two stakes to make them the length of that final measurement, using 1-by-1-inch lumber or 3/4-inch-diameter rebar. Position each stake 2 to 3 inches from the tree's trunk. Drive each stake through the soil and rock layer to the bottom of the planter by using a rubber mallet. Tie nylon webbing in a figure-eight pattern to connect each stake to the tree.
A planter with a wide base is much more stable and less likely to fall than a narrow-based planter if you accidentally bump the Christmas tree. A large planter also weighs more than a small container made of the same material.
Before adding filler material and installing the Christmas tree in the planter, set the planter in the place where you wish to display the tree. Filler material, potting soil and the tree greatly increase the planter's weight, making it much more difficult to set in place after it is full.
Expect to water the tree daily, using enough water to keep its soil evenly moist but not wet. The tree could require 1/2 to 1 gallon of water daily. The exact amount of water to use varies with tree size, planter size, humidity level and the amount of organic matter in the potting soil.
Move the tree in its planter outdoors or transplant the tree outdoors so it can continue growing after the holiday season. A potted Christmas tree typically lasts 12 to 18 days in dry indoor air. Using a humidifier in the tree's room can help extend the tree's indoor life, but monitor the tree carefully for signs that it is dying, including drying needles and discoloration.
Position the stakes carefully around the Christmas tree's root ball to avoid driving stakes through a large root. Ideally, each stake should be positioned between roots, not severing them, but it's nearly impossible to avoid severing small roots.
- This Old House: Choose a Live Christmas Tree
- Royal Horticultural Society: Christmas Trees
- Sunset: 19 sustainable Christmas Tree Choices
- Cornell University Cooperative Extension, Suffolk County: How to Choose and Plant a Live Christmas Tree
- North Carolina Cooperative Extension: Christmas Tree Notes
- Home Depot: Staking a Tree