Christmas trees

There are several types of conifer that can be brought indoors for decorating at Christmas. Most are available as cut trees, but container grown and containerised trees (dug up with roots and plunged into pots) are also available.

Fraser fir. Image: RHS/John Trenholm

Quick facts

Common name Christmas tree
Botanical name Various
Group Conifers
Height and spread Depends on tree
Aspect Most prefer a sheltered position, in full sun
Hardiness Hardy
Difficulty Easy

Christmas tree care

Remember to ask your supplier where the trees come from, and to choose a locally sourced and grown tree, or one that has at least been grown in the UK rather than abroad.

When displaying trees indoors, avoid placing them too close to a fire or radiator, as this will cause excessive moisture loss and needle drop.

Cut trees

  • When you get the tree home, saw 2.5cm (1in) off the bottom with a pruning saw
  • Place in a stand with a well of water in the base
  • Check daily and top up the water when the level drops
  • With care, cut trees should last about four weeks

Trees in pots

  • To reduce stress and damage to living trees, display them in a cool room
  • Bring trees indoors as late as possible – the weekend before Christmas is ideal
  • Do not keep living trees in the house any longer than 12 days, but be guided by the tree. If it looks unhappy, put it back outside

Either plant the tree out in the garden after Christmas, or (if you want to bring it indoors again next year) grow it on in a container, moving it into a bigger pot annually until you reach the maximum size that can be moved comfortably (about 45cm (18in) diameter and depth).  Soil-based John Innes No 2 potting media is ideal.

Pruning and training

Christmas trees need very little training when grown outdoors. Aim to maintain an attractive shape, removing any shoots that spoil the silhouette or any strong upright branches that compete with the leading stem. Prune away any dead, diseased or dying branches.

Christmas trees planted in pots will be limited in their size by the constraints of the pot. But if planted out in the garden, Christmas trees can get very large, reaching a height of about 15-20m (50-65ft) in twenty years, and possible eventual heights of about 40m (130ft). The smallest growing Christmas trees are probably Fraser firs, which reach about 7m (23ft) after twenty years, attaining an eventual height of about 20m (65ft), and Korean firs, which reach 4m (13ft) in twenty years and an eventual height of 10m (33ft).

Propagation

Christmas trees can be grown from seed or cuttings - both semi-ripe and hardwood, but are usually bought as full size trees for displaying indoors.

Cultivar Selection

Picea abies (Norway spruce): Traditional Christmas tree with a good scent, but quick to drop its needles. Spraying with 'Spray 'n Save' Christmas tree spray will help reduce needle drop.

Abies nordmanniana (Nordmann fir): Dark green needles that are very slow to drop, but more expensive than Norway spruce.

Picea pungens Glauca group (Blue spruce): Blue needles, more prickly than other trees, holds its needles better than the Norway spruce.

Abies koreana (Korean fir): Dark green, slightly curling needles. Excellent needle-holding quality.

Abies fraseri (Fraser fir): Good needle-holding properties, a lovely pine fragrance and the regular shape of a Norway spruce.

Problems

Christmas trees are generally problem-free indoors, but will lose their needles quickly if placed too close to a source of heat, or if water dries up in the well of the stand.

Christmas trees grown on in pots may only live for a few years, as they are not naturally suited to ongoing pot cultivation.

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