Displaying a live Christmas tree in a pot or planter is a green alternative to using cut Christmas trees. This way you get to enjoy the look and smell of a real blue spruce or pine Christmas tree, without the guilt of knowing that a tree has been cut down for the sake of your home decor. Your Christmas tree can be a temporary indoor plant during the holiday season, then the tree can be replanted in your garden or other outdoor space.
As for the tree itself: Nurseries and Christmas tree retailers sometimes sell potted live, container-grown Christmas trees, which are already established in their own soil. The alternative is a tree that has been dug out of the ground and had its root system balled up and wrapped in burlap. If you buy a container-grown tree, you don't need to repot it at all—just bring it inside and decorate. A "balled and burlapped" tree requires a little more care when used as in indoor tree, and doesn't actually need a pot!
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There is another kind of tree that can be displayed in a pot, and will need some help to anchor it in place. An artificial tree in a festive planter is photo-worthy Christmas decor. But these trees can topple over if they're not securely held in place, so it may take concrete or other heavy material to anchor a fake tree.
Displaying a container-grown potted tree
In a cold climate, a live tree should ideally be placed in a garage, shed or covered porch for a few days to warm up slightly before it comes indoors. Choose an indoor location that will keep all parts of the tree at least several feet away from radiators, fireplaces and other heat sources.
A pre-potted Christmas tree should have some drainage holes in the bottom of the container. Set the pot on a wide plant saucer to collect water that flows out of the soil. Display the tree just like that, or set the saucer and potted tree inside a larger, decorative planter or pot. You can even skip the saucer if you're using a planter that's waterproof. Keep the container-grown tree moist by keeping an inch of water in the saucer or bottom of your decorative planter.
Using a larger, decorative pot as a base is also important if your container-grown tree seems unsteady, and you feel like the entire thing might tip over. Choose a heavy planter as the base and pour a few inches of gravel into the bottom. Place the potted tree in the center of the planter and fill in the space around the pot with more gravel or soil. Give the tree a little water every day; it'll run off into the gravel so the roots of the tree don't remain soggy.
A short, compact Christmas tree is better for pot display than a tall, wide tree. A tabletop or mini Christmas tree, like a dwarf Alberta spruce or other small tree, is especially well suited for container planting.
Displaying a balled and burlapped tree
Bringing a B&B tree indoors tends to look a little more rustic than using a container-grown tree. You don't want to disturb the root ball and burlap while the tree is very briefly acting as a houseplant. Simply set the root ball on a large plant saucer. You could theoretically put the entire saucer and tree inside a planter, but it would need to be quite wide; the root ball of a B&B tree is generally pretty substantial. Keep the burlap wrapped with a wet towel to keep the root ball and soil moist, changing the towel daily.
To give a balled and burlapped tree stability, anchor it in place by surrounding the root ball with heavy objects like stacked bricks, polished stones or fireplace logs.
If you hope to replant a container-grown or B&B tree into the landscape after Christmas, know that replanted Christmas trees often fail to thrive. Buy your tree from a nursery with knowledgeable staff who can help you select the tree with the best chance of survival for your climate. The Norway spruce or Fraser fir tree of your Christmas dreams might not be a good fit for your actual backyard.
Potting an artificial tree
Using a festive pot or planter to display an artificial Christmas tree is a fun way to change up your holiday decor. For example, place a pair of smaller trees in tall planters as eye-catching entrance trees just outside or inside your front door.
If you choose a pot or planter that's wide enough to accommodate the tree's base, simply set the tree inside the pot and carefully pour sand or decorative gravel over the base to anchor it in place. (Only use filler materials like these if you don't have pets or small children, since they can be messy or become choking hazards.)
The more secure and permanent way to anchor an artificial tree in a pot is to use concrete in a plastic pot. Set a piece of PVC tubing in the middle of the concrete to slip the bottom pole of the tree into.
Ending the season
Ideally, real Christmas trees will stay indoors for no more than 10 days or so. Using a humidifier in the room can help extend the tree's life indoors, but monitor the tree carefully for signs that it is dying, including drying needles and discoloration.
Move the tree back into the garage or covered porch to help it adjust to colder temperatures. Either place your container-grown potted tree somewhere on your property in its original pot, or if your climate is warm enough in winter, replant a containerized or B&B tree in the ground right away.
Dig a hole three to four times the width of the container or root ball before transporting the tree. With a B&B tree, you'll need to cut away the burlap and wire that surround the root ball before covering it with soil and mulch.
Whatever kind of Christmas tree you use, keeping it upright and flourishing throughout the holiday season isn't too complicated. Just make sure the tree feels steady and stable before you add the first string of lights!