The Christmas tree is the centrepiece of our homes over Christmas, bringing joy throughout the season. But what about when the festivities are over? On the twelfth night after Christmas, the decorations come down and it’s often a shame to see the tree go. However, with some types of tree you can actually plant them outside after Christmas and it can continue to be grown, ready for next year!
Unfortunately, this only works with trees that have been bought in containers and still have their roots or a root-ball attached. A tree that has been cut above the roots, is essentially dead and cannot be planted outside. Many people are now buying living Christmas trees in pots, rather than cut trees. These tend to be smaller, but they last longer and keep their needles for longer. The idea is to plant the tree out in the garden once Christmas is over, so it can stay in the garden as an ornamental tree or be used again next year.
It’s an admirable aim but often unsuccessful in practice. This is because of the shift in conditions: moving from a heated indoor environment to a frosty, windy garden. Plants are not accustomed to this kind of sudden and dramatic change, and usually their response is to die. But successfully planting a Christmas tree out in the garden is not impossible. You just need to give the tree time to acclimatise, and plenty of water.
Here’s some fun planting tips to help you keep your Christmas tree alive after the decorations have come down.
Determine the type of tree
Before you start, it is worth checking what type of tree you have, as this will affect the likely success rate.
There are two main types: container-grown and containerised.
Container-grown means that the plant has always been grown in a container
containerised trees have been grown in the ground, then dug up and put in a pot
Container-grown trees are more expensive but they are much more likely to survive being planted out, because they have not had any recent root damage. Containerised trees might survive, but they may not live as long as it says on the label.
Keep your Christmas tree cool and well-watered while it’s indoors. The stark contrast between lovely warmth and icy January winds can damage and even kill the tree, so don’t put it right by the fireplace or radiator. You can also put ice cubes in the pot to ensure more gradual watering.
If the weather is particularly frosty, try acclimatising the tree gently to outdoor temperatures by putting it in the garage or unheated greenhouse for a couple of weeks first.
Planting the tree
Make sure to choose a dry day when the ground is not frozen or waterlogged. It may be worth digging the hole at a warmer time and saving the soil for later, especially in areas that are more prone to freezing conditions or snow—that way, when it comes to planting the tree, the hole is already prepared. Water the tree really well to hydrate the roots and make it easy to remove the pot. Dig a hole slightly wider than the root ball and remove the tree from its container.
Plant the tree in the hole, making sure you get the correct depth. The root ball and trunk should not be buried any deeper in the ground than they were in the pot. Lay a garden cane across the hole to check the depth if necessary. Fill in the hole with the soil and water it well, remembering to keep it hydrated during any dry spells. If the tree looks unstable, or could be blown over by wind, then it is a good idea to stake it into position until it becomes properly established.
For the best results, apply an organic mulch around the base of the tree and keep an eye on the soil moisture around it.
As next Christmas arrives, you have two options for what you want to do with your tree. It can be dug up again and brought inside to bring Christmas cheer once again, but it is likely that this will cause a great deal of damage to the roots and will be unlikely to survive if you attempt to plant it outside again. The dramatic temperature changes between hot and cold, plus root damage, can be fatal.
The other option is to leave it where it is outside, and decorate it with outdoor lights. This way, whenever you gaze out into your garden, you can look out onto the tree and enjoy the enchanting festive scenery it creates outdoors.
If you do want to bring the same container-grown tree back into the house every Christmas, it’s better not to actually plant it out in the garden. You may be able to leave that tree in its pot or transfer it to a slightly larger pot, but bear in mind that the dramatic changes in climate will stress the tree, making it less likely to survive.
David Domoney is a Chartered Horticulturalist, Broadcaster, and Author. David has worked with a number of the UK’s leading garden retailers as a plant buyer and strategic consultant. With more than 30 years experience, in horticulture, David is as passionate about plants now as he was when he bought his first plant at a village fete.