JoAnne Skelly: Give the gift of a living Christmas tree

Here’s another take on gift giving. Give a living Christmas tree in a pot that your gift receiver can plant in their yard after Christmas. If you give a tree, include these tips.

While indoors, check the moisture content of the root ball daily. Water it when the top two inches of soil feels dry. Be sure to have a plastic saucer under the tree to catch excess water and to prevent damage to the floor. Set the container up on rocks or on another upside down saucer to prevent the plant from sitting in water.

Trees in containers break dormancy if kept in the house more than seven to 10 days. If this occurs, the buds for spring growth will lose their ability to withstand freezing temperatures. If they break dormancy and you put the tree outside, the buds will die and the tree may not survive.

To push a living tree back into dormancy, gradually expose it to colder temperatures over a period of weeks. Move the tree out during the day for a few days or more when temperatures are above freezing and back in at night if temperatures are at or below freezing. Gradually expose it to colder and then freezing temperatures. Then, it can be planted outside.

The alternative to moving the tree in and out is to baby it indoors in its container until the temperatures warm up in the spring, and then plant it. Store it out of freezing temperatures in a location where it receives sunlight. Water it as needed.

Can a tree be left outdoors in its container over the winter? Containerized plants freeze, thaw and reheat more easily than in-ground plants. This stresses the plant, damages roots and compromises the plant’s ability to absorb water. If you must leave a tree in its container, try packing snow or soil over and around the pot, and keep it in a shady location. Or build a wire cage around the container and fill it with mulch, leaves, straw or soil to insulate the roots. Keep the tree’s roots moist without letting the tree stand in water.

The ideal way to deal with a live tree that is still dormant is to plant it immediately after the holiday. Prepare the hole before the ground freezes. If you do not dig the hole in advance, a couple of warm days or a few buckets of hot water, should allow you to dig a planting hole in the days following Christmas.

JoAnne Skelly is Associate Professor & Extension Educator, Emerita at University of Nevada Cooperative Extension. She can be reached at


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