Potted Christmas tree: a sustainable alternative?


I am a student of agricultural sciences and a real country kid. At home, I love tending my small vegetable garden and spending time out in nature. When not outdoors, I love to write. Beyond gardening and writing, however, I am particularly passionate about wildlife.

Favourite fruit: currants and raspberries
Favourite vegetables: salsify, savoy cabbage and potatoes

Buying a Christmas tree in a pot that you can reuse every year sounds like a fantastic and sustainable idea. But does it really work? We will reveal whether fir trees can grow in pots for several years.

a small christmas tree with fairy lights in a pot
The Christmas tree in a pot is a sustainable alternative [Photo: New Africa/ Shutterstock.com]

What would Christmas be without a magnificent Christmas tree? A decorated Christmas tree is irreplaceable for many people. However, the traditional beautifully decorated Christmas tree is increasingly being criticised, owing to the fact that it is simply thrown out after a few short weeks. A live Christmas tree in a pot is supposed to be the solution as it is not cut down and can continue to grow after Christmas as a pot plant or planted out in the garden. Read on to find out how to care for the potted Christmas tree and whether this new trend is truly a sustainable alternative.

Growing a Christmas tree in a pot: does it really work?

Many people doubt that it is possible to grow a Christmas tree in a pot and therefore opt for the traditional annual Christmas tree. In reality, growing a potted Christmas tree is relatively easy if a few guidelines are followed. Firstly, it is important to be careful when choosing a potted tree because not all Christmas trees are suitable for keeping in a pot. For example, plants that were grown outdoors and only are transferred into a pot shortly before being sold usually die quickly because their sensitive roots are damaged when potted. As a result, trees that have been grown in pots from the start are better suited for a life as a sustainable Christmas tree. Furthermore, the type of tree is also important for the survival of a potted Christmas tree: fir trees (Abies), especially the popular Nordmann fir (Abies nordmanniana), do not do well in pots because they grow deep taproots. On the other hand, spruces (Picea) are particularly suitable as pot-grown Christmas trees due to their shallow roots.

Advantages of potted Christmas trees

As an alternative to the traditional cut down Christmas tree, the strength of the real Christmas tree in a pot lies in its sustainability: instead of fetching a Christmas tree from a large monoculture every year, the potted Christmas tree can be used for several years. However, many of the potted trees also come from large plantations and are therefore associated with a burden on the environment, as pesticides and artificial fertilisers are frequently used in the large Christmas tree monocultures. However, it is pretty easy to avoid this you can avoid this unpleasant environmental impact by choosing a locally grown tree or an organic one.

a group of small green Christmas trees in black pots
Potted firs are much more sustainable, as fewer trees need to be planted in monocultures [Photo: Chamille White/ Shutterstock.com]

Besides from being sustainable, potted Christmas trees are also rather versatile. After Christmas, you can keep the evergreen spruce as a pot plant outdoors such as on the terrace or plant it out into the garden for a little extra greenness. Plus, if you do not have the time to care for the tree all year round, there generally places where you can rent a pot-grown Christmas tree over Christmas and return it afterwards to let someone take care of it the rest of the year. In contrast to the traditional fir tree, the potted Christmas tree does not drop as many needles and continues to look stunning even after years of use. What nostalgic charm, reminiscent of Christmases past.

Disadvantages of potted Christmas trees

Unfortunately, there are some disadvantages to having a real Christmas tree in a pot. The biggest drawback is the lack of variety in appearance. This is because many popular Christmas tree varieties, such as the Nordmann fir, are not suitable for growing in pots. Furthermore, pot-grown Christmas trees are often a lot smaller than cut-down Christmas trees as the larger the tree the bigger the root system and consequently the bigger the pot. This can also become incredibly heavy and impossible to move indoors if it is too big.

It is also important to remember that real Christmas trees in pots require a great deal of care throughout the year. Like any other potted plant, the conifer in a pot needs to be watered and fertilised regularly. In addition, in order for the trees to grow properly, they must be repotted from time to time. Evergreen tree care is also further complicated by the tree’s lagged response to poor care. As a result, it is frequently difficult to pinpoint the exact cause of the tree’s poor health.

red and white decorations on a small green Christmas tree
Often only small trees are available in pots [Photo: Katya_Bogomolova/ Shutterstock.com]

How to care for a potted Christmas tree

If you decide to buy a Christmas tree in a pot, proper care is required to ensure a healthy tree. It is especially important to buy the pot-grown Christmas tree early – before moving it into a heated living room, allow it to acclimatise for a week. To do so, place the Christmas tree in a cool, unheated area, such as a hallway or a conservatory for at least a week. If the potted Christmas tree is not allowed to acclimatise, it will quickly drop needles and look sickly.

Once in the living room, the location of the potted Christmas tree is critical – conifers do not like hot air, so place the tree in the coldest spot in the room. Spruces like a bright to semi-shady spot while firs are also happy in shady spots during the winter. Water your potted Christmas tree every two days with lukewarm water, but make sure to avoid waterlogging. In addition, you can moisten the needles with a spray bottle to prevent them from drying out from the warm heated air.

a white bottle spraying water on pines
A spray bottle protects the needles from drying out [Photo: TANAGRITYE/ Shutterstock.com]

If you want your potted Christmas tree to live longer, keep it in a warm living room for no more than ten days. After that, slowly introduce the potted Christmas tree to a colder environment before placing outdoors again in the open air. Conifers cannot tolerate a permanently warm environment.

If the Christmas tree is left in the pot for the rest of the year, it will require special care. After the first frost, add a little conifer fertiliser to the pot to ensure adequate nutrients. Furthermore, repot the Christmas tree every few months for optimal growth. The new pot should be about ten centimetres larger than the previous one and filled with rhododendron soil about a hand’s width thick. You can use our Plantura Ericaceous Compost for this. It is particularly suitable for firs and spruces as the compost has an acidic pH value, which conifers often require. When repotting, take care not to damage any of the roots. After repotting, water the Christmas tree regularly for the next few weeks.

Planting a Christmas tree in the garden

In addition to growing real Christmas tree in pots, many people wish to plant their tree out in their garden after Christmas. It is especially important to choose a suitable location for the tree to ensure it can succeed. Many conifers reach great heights, so it is important to choose a spot where it can grow freely. Firs and spruces like bright to semi-shady locations with a rather moist soil, but they are not very picky about their soil requirements.

When you have found a good location for your Christmas tree, it is time to get ready to plant it outside. First, dig a hole at least ten centimetres deeper than the tree’s root system. Now carefully free the conifer tree from its pot, taking special care to not damage any roots. Insert the tree into the hole and fill with a soil and humus mix. Press down around the trunk, making sure that the trunk is not covered with soil. During the first three weeks after planting the tree outside, water it thoroughly every day.

a whole dug to replant the potted Christmas tree in garden
The Christmas tree can also be planted in the garden [Photo: Miriam82/ Shutterstock.com]

The best time to plant the pot-grown Christmas tree outside is from mid-March, when the ground is frost-free. Make sure to protect it from any late frosts or plant it out after the last frost has occurred. However, it is not recommended to dig up the tree again for the following Christmas because this would damage too many roots, potentially killing the tree. Christmas trees planted out in the garden should be allowed to enjoy their life there all year round.

Subscribe to the Plantura newsletter