I would like to make a radical suggestion: buy your Christmas tree now.
In garden centers and big box stores, there are evergreen trees, spruces, pines, firs, beautiful future Christmas trees. You could pay 20 dollars for a decent sized evergreen Add another twenty or thirty dollars for a pretty pot, and you have a great specimen that will add structure to your yard or patio, and next Christmas, a tree for inside.
Now, wait, you say to yourself, you read all those articles back in December about choosing between a cut tree and a fake tree, and there was always a brief mention of the third road, the live tree. However, there is the implication that it is a lot of work: you have to dig a hole before the soil freezes, you have to special-order a ball-and-burlap tree, only bring it into the house for a few days lest it break dormancy, and put it in the ground a soon after Christmas as possible. I am here to say it simply isn’t true.
Maybe I should have said this before Christmas, and I did, to anyone who would listen, but let me tell you now, in July, it is not only possible, but pleasant to have a living holiday tree in your house. I have bought three Christmas trees in the last eight years. The first was an Alberta Spruce, purchased for five dollars, and plunked in a pot. I know I paid more for the pot than for the tree. It was only about 15 inches high, and was a great tree for two Christmases. When we bought our house, I planted it in the garden, and it is still only about 30 inches tall. It is a dwarf, after all.
The first year, we left it outside in its pot, watering often in the summer, and whenever I remembered in the winter. We brought it inside the weekend before Christmas, and watered it with ice cubes, to keep the root ball cold. We always undecorate for Christmas on January 6, 12th night, and that year, as I recall, it was warm, so we just put it outside. A few branches had broken dormancy, and sprouted, so they froze when the weather got cold, but it did no lasting harm to the tree. Tell me there was no lasting harm to the tree you bought at the tree lot. The following year, we did the same, My daughter was toddling, and I thought it was nice to be able to put it on the table, out of reach, but my husband expressed a desire for a bigger tree.
So, the next spring I chose a three foot tall Colorado Blue Spruce, and bought a 20” terra cotta pot to go with it. I honestly can’t remember whether I paid more for the pot or the tree, but it probably doesn’t matter, because I still have them both, five years later. We have it down to a science now: bring the tree inside just before Christmas, water with ice cubes, put it back out two or three weeks later, and take care of the tree as a large potted specimen the rest of the year. It is a nice anchor for one of my flower beds, adding height and structure.
Are there any disadvantages? Well, you have to water the tree during the summer, and it might die. I could point out that you have to water petunias, or geraniums, or any other plant you might have in a container, so why not a tree? As far as the risk of killing the tree, the one you buy from the Lion’s club is already dead, and the artificial one was never alive, and they were both probably shipped from somewhere very far away. A little live tree is much easier on the environment.
Another disadvantage is the small size. In our house it doesn’t matter. We have a ranch house built in the ‘60’s with low-slung ceilings- it has a very horizontal feel. The pot for our current tree is about 20 inches high, and the tree is 40 inches, so the whole thing, including the angel on top, is shorter than I am. If I had a huge entry way, with a grand staircase, the tree might feel… puny. However, I suspect there are more people in the world with little houses than big, anyway. In our house, our tree feels just right, it might feel just right in your house, too.
So, go out and get yourself an evergreen. In order to keep your tree in the same pot for a few years, find a pot that is 20 inches in diameter or bigger. Use good quality, well draining potting soil, and mix in slow release fertilizer. Place the pot in full sun, and water regularly. Then next winter, when the question of “real or artificial” comes up, you can sniff and say, “we don’t have a tree carcass in our house, we have a live tree.”