A Potted Christmas

If you love the smell of a real Christmas tree over the festive season, why not think this year of buying a potted rather than a cut tree? This is a wonderful option for the health of the planet as you can replant the tree afterwards in the garden so it will not end up thrown away after Christmas to landfill.

Often called a living tree, there is a difference between a potted tree – grown in the ground and dug up before Christmas – and a container-grown tree which has actually been grown in the pot. With container-grown trees, the root system is stronger and healthier as they have developed in the pot and the tree has not suffered any shock from being dug up.

Buying a container-grown tree is really like bringing home a temporary houseplant and they will need a little more care than a cut tree. The benefit of losing less needles and being able to be grown on in the garden after Christmas is reward enough for a little indoor care.

Who best to give their top tips for looking after a container-grown Christmas Tree than our kings of container growing, David Gallacher and Tom Williamson of Tom’s Hidden Garden?

1. Choose Your Potted Christmas Tree Carefully

Do not just grab the first decent-shaped tree you see. If you want to keep your Christmas tree alive and well until Christmas Day and beyond, you need to take a more considered approach.

If you intend to keep your real container-grown Christmas tree outside in the garden after Christmas, pick a type of fir which will be best suited to your local climate.

Ask if the tree is potted or pot-grown. Try to avoid buying a potted tree as this means it has been grown in the ground and then dug up and planted in the pot to sell. These nearly always die as they have had too much root removed.

Always choose a pot-grown tree. Pot-grown trees have all their root intact and will nearly always survive if cared for correctly.

2. Prepare Your Real Christmas Tree for Life Indoors

Once you have got your Christmas tree home, do not immediately bring it into the house. Place it in a sheltered spot in your garden, give it a hose down, and give the roots a really good drink of water. Ideally, leave it overnight before bringing it indoors and give it a really good shake to get rid of any loose needles.

Do not remove the tree from the container it has been sold in, any disturbance of the roots should be avoided.

The containers which potted Christmas trees come in, though, are typically not very attractive so it is always nice to place the tree inside a more festive outer planter. Remember to place the inner container on a saucer to prevent water from seeping out of the bottom of the decorative container if it has drainage holes.

3. How to Look After Your Tree Indoors

Position the tree in a cool but light spot – not next to a radiator or heater of any kind. Container-grown Christmas trees should be watered regularly but not over-watered. Too dry and the needles will turn brown and drop off; too wet and the roots will start to rot. Judge when to water by the feel of the soil.

Ideally, you should put your pot-grown Christmas tree outside for 24 hours every week to 10 days to allow it to really ‘breathe’ but if decorated, this might not be possible.

If you cannot bring it outside, the container should be brought indoors as late as possible, around the week before Christmas is perfect. Do not keep the tree indoors for more than 12 days. If at any point it seems to be unhappy, with a change in colour or stature, put it back outside.

4. Planting a Real Christmas Tree in the Garden

After Christmas, you can move your tree outside and either plant it into the ground so that you have a tree to decorate outside next year, or keep it in the pot. Usually the pots they come in are a little small, to help with transportation to local garden centres. With this in mind, you usually need to pot the tree up after Christmas in the first year.

When you move the tree outside after Christmas, it is usually best to give it a few weeks in a cold garage or greenhouse to acclimate to the colder outdoor weather.

To plant a tree in the ground, dig a hole that is slightly larger than the root ball. Water the plant thoroughly to help loosen up the roots and allow for easy removal from the pot. Place the tree in the hole and fill in the remaining area with soil and water thoroughly.

If you are going to keep the tree potted, the key to caring for a container-grown Christmas tree in your garden is to place it in the right spot. Most fir trees prefer cool, moist conditions so place the tree in a sheltered spot but, particularly during hot summers, not in direct sunlight and keep it watered during dry spells. 

Repotting a Christmas Tree

If the tree is getting too big for its container and you need to re-pot it, you should go up one size bigger. Water it so that the roots are looser and tease them out to remove any of the old compost that is stuck in between. When you repot, do so with John Innes potting compost which is soil-based to hold moisture better, is heavier to help keep the tree upright, and ensures the tree gets nutrients to stay healthy. Once repotted, water well.

Watering and Feeding

The tree should be kept cool and well-watered. Add fertiliser throughout the spring to ensure the tree gets nutrients necessary to remain hardy and strong for winter. Christmas trees growing in pots will need watering regularly, especially over summer and during warm dry spells, sometimes every day.

Pruning Christmas Trees

Pruning the Christmas tree is an easy process, as you can prune these hardy trees whenever you see a dead or dying branch. You can also prune away any new growth that takes away from the general shape of a traditional Christmas tree, which is usually the main reason for doing a little pruning. Regularly pruning in this fashion throughout the year will ensure your tree is ready for winter and the festive season with the perfect shape.

Popular Types of Christmas Trees

It is always best to get a tree that is locally sourced rather than an imported tree.

Norway Spruce

Usually the most affordable with sharp needles and the best traditional shape.

Fraser Fir

These have a tint of blue and are generally much more narrow, making them ideal for tighter spaces.

Nordmann Fir

This type has a great shape and soft needles. They can be a little wide at the base compared to most other types, so usually need a little more space

Pine Tree

This traditional Christmas tree is often grown in Scotland and can be very wide but they have lots of space between each layer of branches, making it easier to hang Christmas decorations.

Blue Spruce

This type may be the best to grow in larger pots as they seem to take to growing in pots well. Their sharp blue needles look amazing and they usually have a good, traditional shape.

Tom’s Hidden Garden is located in Bonnybridge, Central Scotland – a small garden with over 630 different plants, 200 containers, and 30 hanging baskets. Tom Williamson has been developing the garden over the last 35 years, working with David Gallacher over the last 10 to create its unique look. Tom is a keen gardener, planting where he thinks a plant will be happy. David is a time-served gardener in commercial gardens and landscaping. Catch up with more secrets of their garden and their success with plants on their Facebook group.

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