University of Florida

The Neighborhood Gardener:
Living Christmas Trees

Living Christmas trees create memories that last a lifetime. They can be enjoyed indoors during the holidays and outdoors in the landscape throughout the year.

Select from a variety of living trees that are suited for Florida, including red cedar, Arizona cypress, Leyland cypress, Torulosa juniper, sand pine, and, in South Florida, Norfolk Island pine. Think beyond the holidays by selecting a tree whose mature size will work in your landscape. While it’s inside, keep your tree moist but not flooded, and remember that an extended indoor stay could harm the tree. Once your tree has been planted in the landscape, you can decorate it every holiday season with yard-brightening tinsel, ornaments, and outdoor lights. Make holiday memories last by adding a living tree to your landscape.

Plan well ahead if you are decorating with a living Christmas tree.

  • Find a suitable post-holiday planting site, one capable of supporting a tree that can grow 40- to 60-feet high.
  • Choose only native or adapted trees that can survive the indoor-outdoor handling and that fit readily into your yard. Just because someone is selling them locally doesn't mean the tree will grow here. Leyland cypress and Southern red cedar examples of living Christmas trees that are commonly sold in Florida and are suited for planting outdoors.
  • Select a tree with well-colored needles. Don't buy one with yellowing or brown tips.
  • Pick which type you prefer—balled and burlapped, or containerized.  When taking the tree home try not to injure the tree's roots by dropping it, since this will stress the tree.
  • Purchase the tree a week or more ahead of the time you plan to move it indoors. Acclimate it to lower light conditions by keeping it in a shady location.
  • Keep the tree inside for a brief time, like 7-10 days. If you leave it in longer than that, you can stress the tree and it won't make the transition well to the outside. Give the tree some time to readjust when you take it outside after the holidays.
  • Water your living Christmas tree like you would any potted plant.  Keep the roots moist but not soggy. A common problem with living Christmas trees is overwatering.  Water thoroughly, but don't let it stand in water.  The best way to tell if it needs water is to use the "finger test." Stick your finger into the soil up to your first knuckle.  If the soil is moist, then it doesn't need to be watered. 
  • Plant the tree in the landscape by digging a wide, shallow hole. Add plenty of water to the root ball and surrounding soil.  Fill the hole and cover with mulch.    
  • Nurture your living Christmas tree for at least two years, especially in drought-stricken regions of Florida.  The root system is out of proportion with the size of the tree that you have. That continues even into the second year. Regular watering is important until the tree is established.
 

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