‘Tis the Season to Plant Live Christmas Trees…or not?

A young live tree lights up this happy home. Will it find a happy home of its own to spread its roots?

Are you one of the many people who celebrate the holidays with live or fresh cut Christmas trees?   If live trees are your preference, I would like to relate my experience as a former tree service owner.  Live Christmas trees provided many jobs for local tree care companies.  But the jobs were not for planting, they were most often for tree removal.  It was quite common for the cute and small potted live Christmas tree to grow into a woody grinch.

The live tree in its container was carried into the house every December.  It was decorated, loved, and then set outside again at the end of the holiday season where it was to enjoy the next eleven months in the great outdoors.  If the tree did its job, it would grow in the pot year round and contribute to the environment as trees are supposed to do.  If the tree was fortunate, it may have been moved into a larger container every year or two, set in a sunny location, and provided with water and fertilizer.  If it wasn’t so lucky, it got stashed on the shady side of the house and maybe watered a bit, only to be forgotten until the following Christmas.

But if the tree survives the seasons, a time comes when it gets too big and heavy to move back into the house.  As size and weight become overwhelming, the dedicated homeowner may set it free and plant it in the yard.

When shopping for a live tree, an appropriate tree species is often ignored and trumped by the buyer’s personal taste for a particular young tree. Thus varying species of trees are eventually planted in the yard to become mature trees with whatever inherent characteristics they may have.

An assortment of live trees to choose from, but which is best?
An assortment of live trees to choose from, but which is best?

Time moves quickly; fast forward twenty years.  The tree suddenly seems quite large and may be conflicting with structures, sunlight, or overhanging utility wires.   The roots may be damaging the patio or pool, or raising havoc in the landscape.  Sad but true, this once revered living organism becomes a household problem.  Letting go of a nostalgic tree is a tough choice but sometimes necessary.

Three words to remember when planting your live tree: size at maturity
One of the important keys to consider when planting your live tree: size at maturity
In only a few years, a young tree may become completely inappropriate for the space you had in mind.

But how did this all start?  Many folks believe that Christmas tree farming is a sad and wasteful industry, and a violation of life.  Trees are grown, killed, used for a month, and then destroyed, perhaps an abuse of nature (sounds like animal husbandry).  But the multi-million dollar Christmas tree industry provides jobs and contributes to heart warming memorable times for millions of people.  Christmas trees are a renewable resource.  Although many Christmas trees are harvested but never sold, they eventually get chipped and recycled back into the environment, thus providing other benefits to the planet.



Before you purchase a live tree, think about long term goals (as one should with all trees).  Consider the species, its natural characteristics, and where it will be planted when it outgrows the indoors.  For more information on live Christmas trees, check with your local nursery about availability.  Then ask your local qualified arborist about an appropriate species and location for planting on your property.

For an alternative type Christmas tree, if you live in the Santa Barbara area you can rent a live tree from Goleta Valley Beautiful for a small donation.  It will be delivered to your home and then picked up after the holidays.  Eventually it will be planted in an appropriate location in the community.  It may not be that great smelling pine or cedar that you associate with Christmas or the winter holidays, but you can buy tree cuttings, wreathes, cones, or other great scents that can be placed throughout the home.  If you choose a live tree, it may grow for generations to come, especially after being planted in the right place.

Happy Holidays to all.  How can I help you with your trees?

Treemendously yours,

Bill Spiewak

The Lighter Side

"They told me I could keep it as an indoor plant"
(25 years later) “They told me they’d make nice indoor Christmas trees”


  1. What a tease! Aren’t you going to provide a recommended list of species appropriate for use as Christmas trees, either in Santa Barbara region, or in the state? Good article, but sort of incomplete. Best regards.
    Dave Kelley

    1. David,
      You want some cheese to go with that whine? I’ll save the follow-up for next year. Thanks for the feedback. Don’t forget to stop by the cheese shop on the way home. Happy Holidays.

    1. I was sent a link to another blog about the myths around fresh cut trees vs artificial trees. I found it to be quite interesting and new info to me. I think if any readers have questions about artificial vs fresh cut trees, click on the link for clarification. This is the first time I am trying to insert a link into a response so if it doesn’t work, the copy and paste the link in your browser.

  2. We tried this once, buying a live tree and then put it the garage after Christmas. It died immediately. We all assumed it was the temperature shock. Do you have advice to prevent this?

  3. Thanks for the information Bill.
    We are a cut tree family and usually buy from a local small nursery.
    I like the picture of the building with the trees growing out of it!

  4. It’s a pity you don’t have a donate button! I’d certainly donate to this fantastic blog! I guess for now i’ll settle for bookmarking and adding your RSS feed to my Google account. I look forward to new updates and will share this website with my Facebook group. Talk soon!

    1. Thanks for you very nice comments. I must admit that I have been lagging again on posts. I think its my transition into my 6th decade of life and looking for more balance in life. I hope to return soon to more posts as my brain is still very active. I look forward to coming back stronger and hearing more good stuff. Enjoy the rest of the summer.

  5. Thanks Bill,
    You have convinced me. I would be more sad to pull it out of the ground because it’s taking over the back yard, which is small. Thanks for the reality check.

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