The most eco-friendly Christmas tree is one that lasts for years. Here’s how to choose, decorate, and care for a living tree
1 of 19Photography by Jenny Elia Pfeiffer
Choosing your tree
Select a living Christmas tree as you’d choose plants for your garden―go with what you love, and have room for.
You can use the same tree in a container for four to seven years, depending on how fast it grows. If you intend to plant it outdoors eventually, choose a variety that thrives in your climate. And be sure that you have a sunny spot for it.
Look for landscape-grade trees (not sheared), in 5-, 7-, and 15-gallon cans.
Cupressus macrocarpa ‘Wilma Goldcrest’. Best in zone 17.
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Dwarf Alberta spruce
Picea glauca albertiana ‘Conica’. Zones A2, A3; 1–7, 14–17.
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Colorado blue spruce ‘Fat Albert’
Picea pungens ‘Fat Albert’. Zones A2, A3; 1–10, 14–17.
13 of 19Photography by Thomas J. Story
How to care for a live tree
Plan ahead. Buy a variety that thrives in your zone. After the holidays, keep it in a container to reuse year after year, plant it in your garden, or donate it to a local park. If you plan to plant, make sure you have space to allow for the tree’s growth.
Do not disturb. Leave the tree in its nursery container for at least the first Christmas. You don’t want to add transplant shock to the stress of an indoor stay.
Limit its time inside. Display the tree indoors no longer than 10 days, keeping it away from heater vents, fireplaces, and drafts.
Water regularly. The easiest method for live Christmas trees: Place ice cubes atop the soil. As they melt, they slowly release water, which is gradually absorbed by the roots.
Take it outside. Most trees can live outdoors for several years in large containers. Water regularly, when the top 2 inches of soil are dry. When new growth starts in spring, feed with a granular, controlled-release fertilizer.
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How to decorate
Go ahead, gild that little tree. But stick to ornaments in a single metallic finish for a polished outcome. Tuck in twigs spray-painted gold and doused with glitter for extra shimmer.
Tree: Bosnian pine (Pinus heldreichii leucodermis).
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For those with a serious plant addiction, a tree hung with terrariums is reason for a Hallelujah Chorus. This conifer’s sturdy branches easily support the succulents, tillandsias, and activated charcoal that fill each orb.
Tree: Colorado blue spruce (Picea pungens‘Baby Blue’).
A trio of trees calls for simplicity—just one type of ornament on each. Felted yarn balls, thick wool yarn, and a string of lights give this grouping a touch of modern Scandinavian style.
Trees (from left): Korean fir (Abies koreana ‘Horstmann’s Silberlocke’); Dwarf Alberta spruce (Picea glauca albertiana ‘Conica’); Dwarf blue subalpine fir (Abies lasiocarpa‘Glauca Compacta’).
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A tisket, a tasket
A tree looks even prettier in a basket: Place its trunk inside a bucket, well-secured with large rocks and filled with water, then place the bucket inside a burlap-lined basket.
19 of 19Photography by Steve Terrill/Corbis Images
More sustainable ideas
Support a Forest Global ReLeaf, a tree planting program sponsored by American Forests, has planted more than a million conifer seedlings this past year in 14 reforestation projects around the West, including in areas ravaged by wildfires. For every $1 donation, American Forests (americanforests.org) plants a tree.
Send a seedling Give a gift tree that’ll keep on giving, and growing, at Mom and Dad’s place or in a friend’s yard. Seedlings of Colorado spruce, deodar cedar, or giant sequoia (about $25 each) are available from NewGrowth, Inc., an Oregon Nursery. Plants are 1 to 2 feet tall, 2 to 3 years old; they’re gift wrapped using recyclable containers and ribbons. newgrowth.com or 800/605-7457.