8 sustainable Christmas tree choices

Create a lasting memento this holiday by replanting your tree

Christmas tree lot

Photography 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.

Douglas fir

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Douglas fir

Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) Native. Soft dark green or blue-green needles. Easy to grow and shape by shearing. P.M. glauca is a hardy form in the Rockies. Both are handsome and fragrant Christmas trees.

To 70 feet tall. Sunset zones 1-9, 14-24.

Norway spruce living christmas tree

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Norway spruce

Norway spruce (Picea abies) This big landscape tree grows 18 inches per year. Not as prickly as most spruces.

Can hit 150" in height. Sunset zones A2, A3, 1-6, 14-17

White fir Christmas tree

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White fir

White fir (Abies concolor). Symetrical tree with bluish green needles. Grows to 30 feet tall when planted in the ground. S.c.’Candicans’ has bright silvery blue needles.

A good container plant. Sunset zones 1-9, 14-24.

Colorado spruce

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Colorado spruce

Colorado spruce (Picea pungens). ‘Glauca is the standard Colorado blue spruce, but ‘Hoopsii’ is even bluer. It its best in colder areas; a poor choice in Puget Sound region where lack of winter cold leads to severe aphid infestations.

Grows 30 to 60 feet tall in gardens. Zones A2, 3, 1-10, 14-17.

Australian black pine

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Australian black pine

Austrian black pine (Pinus nigra). A dense conical tree with a uniform crown and stiff, very dark green needles.

Grows slowly to 40 to 60 feet tall. Mature trees develop flat tops. Zones A3, 2-10, 14-21.

Alpine fir

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Alpine fir

Alpine fir (Abies lasiocarpa). Native. Slow-growing tree with bluish green needles; 60 to 90 feet tall.

Dwarf blue subalpine fir grows to just 3 to 4 feet tall in 10 years, ultimately reaching 6 to8 feet tall. Zones 1-9, 14-17.

Giant sequoia christmas tree

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Giant sequoia

Giant sequoia (Sequoiadendron giganteum). Dense gray-green foliage; red bark. Better able to tolerate colder, drier climates than coast redwood.

Potentially a huge tree, to 80 feet or more. All zones. 

Deodar cedar living Christmas tree

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Deodar cedar

Deodar cedar (Cedrus deodara). Nodding branches bear green needles with a bluish gray, or golden yellow cast. Floppy top makes it hard to mount a star atop the tree.

A good garden tree if you have room. To 80 feet tall. Zones 2-12, 14-24.

sustainable holiday tree

Photography by Thomas J. Story

Caring for your tree

Indoors Display the tree indoors for no longer than 10 days. Set the pot on a plastic saucer fitted with wheels (available at nurseries). Keep it away from heat and decorate it sparingly using light strings with small, cool bubs. Water regularly. One easy way to do that: dump two trays of ice cubes onto the soil’s surface. As the ice melts, the water trickles slowly through the root zone.

After Christmas Move the tree outdoors to a cool bright porch for a few days to ease the transition, then move it to a protected spot outdoors where the rootball won't freeze. Water when the top two inches of soil feels dry to touch. When new growth starts in spring, feed it with controlled release fertilizer. Then plant it in the garden, or transplant into a larger, light-colored terra cotta or wood container (black plastic pots can overheat, injuring or killing roots).

Douglas fir forest

Photography 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.

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