19 sustainable Christmas tree choices
The most eco-friendly Christmas tree is one that lasts for years. Here’s how to choose, decorate, and care for a living tree
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.
Abies lasiocarpa ‘Glauca Compacta’. Sunset climate zones A2, A3; 1–9, 14–17.
Pinus flexilis ‘Vanderwolf’s Pyramid’. Zones A1–A3; 1–11, 14–21.
Abies koreana ‘Horstmann’s Silberlocke’. Zones 3b–9, 14–24.
Picea pungens ‘Baby Blue’. Zones A2, A3; 1–10, 14–17.
Abies nordmanniana. Zones 1–11, 14–24.
Pinus heldreichii leucodermis. Zones 2–11, 14–24.
Picea pungens ‘The Blues’. Zones A2, A3; 1–10, 14–17.
Pinus parviflora ‘Blue Angel’. Zones 2–9, 14–24.
Cupressus macrocarpa ‘Wilma Goldcrest’. Best in zone 17.
Picea glauca albertiana ‘Conica’. Zones A2, A3; 1–7, 14–17.
Picea pungens ‘Fat Albert’. Zones A2, A3; 1–10, 14–17.
To 70 feet tall. Sunset zones 1-9, 14-24.
Can hit 150" in height. Sunset zones A2, A3, 1-6, 14-17
A good container plant. Sunset zones 1-9, 14-24.
Picea pungens ‘Hoopsii’. ‘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.
Grows slowly to 40 to 60 feet tall. Mature trees develop flat tops. Zones A3, 2-10, 14-21.
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.
Potentially a huge tree, to 80 feet or more. All zones.
A good garden tree if you have room. To 80 feet tall. Zones 2-12, 14-24.
- 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: 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.
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).
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’).
Decor: Hanging sphere vases, $11; paxtongate.com.
Trade glass icicles for a sweeter variety: rock candies in bright colors, hung with embroidery thread wrapped around their wooden handles. Clear lights and a fiberclay pot keep the look unfussy.
Tree: Limber pine (Pinus flexilis ‘Vanderwolf’s Pyramid’).
Decor: Rock candies, $12/set of 12; hammondscandies.com.
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’).
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.