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One of the most important Yuletide decisions this festive season is choosing what sort of Christmas tree to have in your home. While artificial plastic trees are trouble-free options, many prefer the look, feel and smell of a real tree. This prompts the next decision: do we want a ‘potted-living Christmas tree’, or, a ‘live-cut Christmas tree’? and, what variety of Christmas tree do we want?

Christmas Tree Varieties

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Image above: Radiata or Monterey Pine (Pinus radiata)

Pine Trees

The most common and widely available Christmas tree in Australia, especially as a Live-Cut tree, is the Radiata Pine or Monterey Pine (Pinus radiata). These pines have very long, soft, needle-like leaves that are heavily scented, giving that nostalgic Christmas pine smell. They are fast-growing and suitable for most Australian gardens. Can be planted in the ground or kept in a pot. Pot-up every 1-2 years and keep a close-eye on the watering as they dry out very quickly.

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Image above: Norfolk Island Pines (Aracucaria heterophylla)

Norfolk Island Pine Trees

Norfolk Island Pines (Aracucaria heterophylla), unlike species from the genus Pinus, are not “true pines” and won’t give you that real “pine-y scent”. They have very short and pointed leaves, rope-like branches, and a loose habit. They are only available as potted trees. They are a very tall and fast-growing tree, growing up to 35 m high and 15 m wide – so, unless you have the space, avoid planting in the yard. They also make great indoor plants, as they can survive in bright well-lit shade. Pot trees up as they begin to outgrow the pot.

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Image above: Nordmann Fir (Abies nordmanniana)

Fir Trees

Fir Trees, such as the Nordmann Fir (Abies nordmanniana) have short, fragrant, needle-like leaves with a typical Christmas tree shape. They are available as potted or live-cut trees. They are very slow growing, growing only 2 m in 10 years, and so can be kept in a pot for many years. In the ground, they generally grow up to 15 m, but can grow up to 60 m in their native cold climate habitat.

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Image above: European Spruce (Picea Abies)

Spruce Trees

Piceas have short, fragrant, needle-like leaves with a typical Christmas tree shape. They are available as potted or live-cut trees. They are slow growing, long-lived, can be grown in a pot or in the ground. A few of the many species of Picea that make for beautiful Christmas trees, include:

  • European Spruce (Picea abies) - moderately fast-growing and very short leaves.
  • Christmas Star or White Spruce (Picea glauca) - slow-growing and very compact habit. Available in an array of sizes, with smaller potted ones ideal for on top of desks/tables.
  • Colorado Blue Spruce (Picea pungens glauca) - very-slow growing, moderately dense habit, and icy blue leaves.
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Image above: Common Juniper (Juniperus communis)

Junipers

Tree Junipers, such as the Spartan Juniper (Juniper chinensis) are commonly used as garden trees and screening trees. They are only available as potted trees. They are very fast-growing, have a natural cone-shaped habit, and can be grown in the ground, or in a pot. Pot-up every 1-2 years and keep a close-eye on the watering, as they tend to dry out quickly.

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Image above: Wollemi Pine (Wollemia nobilis)

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Image above: Wooly Bush (Adenanthos sericeus)

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Image above: She-Oak (Casuarina sp.)

Other Potted-Living Christmas Tree Ideas

For an unconventional, or a more modern Christmas tree, there are plenty of other options, including:

Australian Native Plants

Exotic Plants

  • Lemon Scented Conifer (Cupressus macrocarpa 'Lemon Scent')
  • Cypress Pine (Cupressosyparis leylandii) and any other conical/cone-shaped growing conifer
  • You can even find “Bromeliad Christmas trees” created using specially designed plant stands.

Potted-Living Christmas Trees

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How to Choose the Perfect
Potted-Living Christmas Tree

Choose trees that are free of pests and diseases, are reasonably balanced and bushy, have a nice straight and strong central trunk. For many conifers, avoid trees that have had their tip of their central trunk lopped off, as this may spoil the habit of the tree indefinitely. Avoid trees with roots that are pot bound or girdling, potting mix that has shrunk away from the edge, or has very dry potting mix.

How to Transport Your
Potted-Living Christmas Tree

If you are transporting the tree inside a vehicle, just make sure you bring a tarp with you to protect the car from any mess, including oozing sticky sap. If you are transporting the tree in the back of a ute or open tray truck, first wrap the tree in a tarp, lay the tree down flat, then securely fasten down with straps or rope. Never stand the tree up when driving, especially without being wrapped, as this may cause physical damage to the tree, dry the tree out and reduce the health of the tree. Ideally, head straight home after purchasing, especially on warm days, as temperatures inside and outside cars will cause heat and moisture stress. If you don’t have a vehicle big enough, or that can transport the tree safely, ask if delivery is available.

What to do When You Bring Your New
Potted-Living Christmas Tree Home

Get the tree out of the vehicle immediately, give the tree a good water, using 0.5 - 1 times the volume of the pot (e.g., for a 25 L pot, give the tree 12-25 L). Place the tree in a position with at least 4 hours direct sun, but somewhere it is protected from radiant heat sources such as a sunny brick wall, or metal fence. Keep the potting mix moderately moist until you are ready to bring it indoors.

When to Bring Your
Potted-Living Christmas Tree Indoors & Decorate

Potted-Living Christmas Trees can survive indoors for about 7 days, and possibly up to 10 days - so bring the tree in just a couple of days before the big day. Just make sure you give it a thorough soaking before bringing it in.

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How to Care for Your
Potted-Living Christmas Tree Indoors

Position

Avoid putting the tree in a very hot room, near the air conditioner, heater, TV, or any other heat or draught source. Ideally put near a window that has direct sunlight, or plenty of filtered light. For fire safety, keep away from electricals and power points. Never leave Christmas tree lights on and unattended. Check with your local fire department for more fire safety advice.

Pot

Place the potted tree on a saucer to help catch any drips and mess. If the tree is in a non-decorative plastic pot wrap the pot in a decorative fabric, or, place the pot into a decorative pot. Keep the saucer underneath the plastic pot if the decorative pot has a hole in it. You can also wrap the pot in a decorative fabric - for the ‘rustic look’ wrap with hessian fabric and tie with hessian ribbon.

Watering

Once the tree is decorated, it will be difficult to take it outdoors to thoroughly water, so check on the potting mix moisture every day and lightly water as needed - it may only need half a litre or a litre of water. Turn off and unplug tree lights while watering, and do not allow any water to come in contact with tree lights.

Feeding

Feed the tree with Yates Vegan Fertiliser or Yates Thrive Indoor Plant Liquid Plant Food - both are suitable for use on indoor plants and will help keep your tree green and healthy. Considering the potting mix is likely to be quite moist while indoors, you can also apply Yates Gnat Barrier to help prevent fungus gnats and to make for a decorative mulch.

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How to Care for Your
Potted-Living Christmas Tree Outdoors

Position

Bring the tree back outside the moment you notice it starting to deteriorate. Position the tree in morning sun only - this will help the tree re-acclimatise to light. After a week or so, you can slowly reintroduce the tree to more and more sunlight. Most conifers will grow in full sun or part shade.

Growing in a Pot

Ideally, wait until the end of summer as potting up during hot conditions can cause plant stress. Pot the tree up to the next size pot (e.g. if it’s in a 20 cm pot, pot up to a 25-30 cm pot) and pot up with Yates Premium Potting Mix. Occasionally rotate the pot so each side gets an even amount of light and grows a nice even tree without bare patches.

Planting in the Ground

Most conifers prefer moderately moist, and well-drained soil. Dig a hole in the ground twice the width and the same height as the pot. Do not dig into clay soil - bring in more soil and create a gentle sloping mound. Adding gypsum may help with some clayey soils but won’t fix a solid clay soil.

Mix compost and Yates Dynamic Lifter Soil Improver & Plant Fertiliser in to the soil. Lay the tree down flat, gently push down on the sides of the plastic pot until the pot can be easily slid off the root ball. Stand the tree upright and position in the hole. Backfill with soil, avoid treading or standing on soil that is close to the tree. Water in immediately, then apply Yates Dynamic Lifter Liquid Concentrate as a soil drench – reapply weekly until plant is established. To prevent transplant shock and reduce water loss through leaves, spray the foliage with Yates DroughtShield - also protects against drought, harsh sun and drying winds and heat.

Watering

As soon as you bring the tree back outdoors, give the tree a thorough watering. Afterwards, keep the potting mix or soil moderately moist, watering as needed.

Feeding

As soon as you bring the tree outside, apply Yates Dynamic Lifter Liquid Concentrate as a foliar feed and as a soil drench. This will help with plant stress, help condition the potting mix, and promote greening and growth. As a general feed that also conditions the soil, apply Yates Dynamic Lifter Soil Improver & Plant Fertiliser or Yates Vegan Fertiliser.

Live-Cut Christmas Trees

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How to Choose the Perfect
Live-Cut Christmas Tree

Pre-cut Christmas trees should look fresh, green, and branches and leaves should sit fairly upright. Avoid trees that look dull, droopy, yellow, and are already losing leaves. Kindly ask the store/supplier when they are getting their delivery in and try to get there soon after, so you can choose the one you want. If you are visiting a Christmas tree farm and getting a freshly cut one, it's unlikely you will run into these kinds of issues, but still look for the same attributes.  

With proper selection and correct care, live-cut Christmas trees can last up to 3-4 weeks inside the home.

How to Transport Your
Live-Cut Tree

If you are transporting the tree inside a vehicle, just make sure you bring a tarp with you to protect the car from any mess, including oozing sticky sap. If you are transporting the tree in the back of a ute or open tray truck, first wrap the tree in a tarp, lay the tree down flat, then securely fasten down with straps or rope. Never stand the tree up when driving, especially without being wrapped, as this may cause physical damage to the tree, dry the tree out and the tree won’t last as long. Ideally, head straight home after purchasing, especially on warm days, as temperatures inside and outside vehicles will cause the tree to stress. If you don’t have a vehicle big enough, or that can transport the tree safely, ask if delivery is available.

What to do When You Get Your
Live-Cut Christmas Tree Home

As soon as you get home, measure the height between the floor and ceiling where the tree is going to stand. Unpack tree from the vehicle, move to a position in the shade outdoors where you can work on the tree. Using a sharp bush saw, bow saw or pruning saw, cut the base of the trunk to desired height, cutting off at least 2 cm - this will also freshen the cut and help the tree to take up water more readily. Immediately, place the tree into a bucket of water. Using a sharp pair of secateurs, prune off any unruly stems or branches, but keep it to a minimum as over-pruning can cause more water loss, and may ruin the natural look of the tree. Once you’re happy with the height and shape, spray the entire tree with Yates Waterwise DroughtShield - this is an anti-transpirant that reduces water loss from leaves and keeps cut trees in better shape for longer. Once the product has dried, you are ready to bring the tree indoors.

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How to Care for Your
Live-Cut Christmas Tree Indoors

Position

Avoid putting the tree in a very hot room, near the air conditioner, heater, TV, or any other heat or draught source. Keep out of direct sunlight. For fire safety, keep away from electricals and power points - and never leave Christmas tree lights on and unattended. Check with your local fire department for more fire safety advice.

Bucket/Stand

You can keep your tree in a very sturdy, wide and short (squat) plastic bucket, keeping the tree upright using very clean bricks. However, it’s much easier and cleaner to use a proper Christmas tree stand. Wrap the bucket/stand in a decorative fabric - for the ‘rustic look’ wrap with hessian fabric and tie with hessian ribbon.

Watering

Fill the bucket or stand with as much water as possible. Check on water level daily and top up as necessary. Turn off and unplug tree lights while watering, and do not allow any water to come in contact with tree lights.

Feeding

No feeding is necessary, however, you may be able to find ‘Christmas tree preservative’.


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