Plant of the month. December 2014: LIVING HOLIDAY TREES

December is upon us. Colorado’s Front Range has endured an unusual November Arctic blast that lasted for a week with daytime high temperatures up to 50 degrees or more below seasonal normals. So, many of us have settled into the holiday spirit indoors and have been busy decorating for Thanksgiving and planning for the upcoming winter holiday season. This year, instead of cutting a live tree in the mountains, consider a live holiday tree that you can plant after the holidays? There are many great examples available at your local nurseries. Any coniferous evergreen will do (those are the ones that have cones!), but there are a few that stand out. The three major choices are Fir, Pine, and Spruce.

Generally, for any manageable size tree, a 5-6’ specimen in a #10-#20 size pot will be able to be moved by two strong people. A 6’ tree in an 18” pot, leaves just enough room for a decoration on top that will fit into an 8’ ceiling space. If a larger tree is desired, see Cupressina Norway Spruce below. For any tree, chose one that you have a specific location for in your yard after the holidays.

The Fir trees (Abies xx and Pseudotsuga xx) are desirable for their soft needles as holiday trees. Brush up against one and see that they can be gentle to the touch. Not so for the Spruce and Pine. Fir choices that might be found at local Front Range Nurseries, though not all, are Balsam Fir, Dwarf Blue Corkbark Fir, Nordmann Fir, Concolor or White Fir (the most common in CO), Douglas Fir (yes, the giants from the mountains), and Siberlocke Korean Fir (small and unique).

Living holiday trees
This year, instead of cutting a live tree in the
mountains, consider a live holiday tree that you can plant after the holidays?

The Pine trees (Pinus xx) have longer needles and offer a different look. Charlie Brown’s Xmas tree was an unhappy but normal looking Ponderosa Pine….lanky, thinly branched when small, and kind of floppy….so probably not the best choice. Better choices would be Austrian Pine or any of the cultivars. Some columnar varieties include Arnold Sentinel and Frank’s. Vanderwolf’s Pyramidal Pine offers two tone needles and a nice shape if one can find a specimen in a nursery that is sheared . Some trees are sheared or trimmed to promote dense growth and tight branching when young so they maintain a pyramidal shape when older….others are left natural and are more open branched when young….chose a sheared variety for that tight holiday tree look. Other options are Bosnian Pine, Pinon Pine, Bristlecone Pine, or Upright Scots (or Scotch) Pine.

Finally, the Spruce trees (Picea xx) are probably the most widely purchased for indoor holiday trees since they are most readily available at nurseries. Make sure to consider the final size of the tree and the space requirements outside for your Spruce….most get really big, though some varieties are smaller or more columnar. If you need a tree taller than 6’ (with rootball and pot size) for your vaulted ceiling, but do not want a tree that is 8’ wide, consider the Cupressina Norway Spruce. You did read the November writeup on them didn’t you? They are quite tall and generally come with much smaller rootballs from the nurseries. Two to three strong people could handle wrangling a 10’ specimen into a living room with rootball. One might have to find a special pot (most nurseries would have one large enough to sell you), since they generally do not come potted, just balled, caged, and burlapped. A 10’ specimen would probably fit in a #20 sized pot. And, some pots come with handles! Anyway, a 10’ Cupressina would fit nicely in a tight corner of a 12-14’ tall ceiling living room. Branching is vertical so they would hold ornaments well. Other Spruce options are any Colorado Spruce, Serbian Spruce, Black Hills Spruce, or a Compact White Spruce (dwarf).

Care and feeding of your holiday tree is simple. The only drawback is that your tree can only be inside for a week at the most. Follow the simple instructions written by the Colorado State Cooperative Extension (our Forest and Landscape people in Colorado) at for the best advice on keeping your Colorado tree alive and thriving. The key points are: acclimate the tree in your garage for a few days and water prior to bringing inside; don’t overwater when inside; acclimate to the garage after the holidays for several days; and plant within a week outdoors in a pre dug hole (yes, that means dig the hole now while the soil is still unfrozen!), water, stake, and mulch heavily. Then, enjoy your living Holiday tree for years to come!

Thanks for reading!