How to Choose and Plant a Live Christmas Tree - Illinois Farm Bureau Partners How to Choose and Plant a Live Christmas Tree - Illinois Farm Bureau Partners

How to Choose and Plant a Live Christmas Tree

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Choosing a Christmas Tree

Thanks to fossils, we know conifers (plants that bear cones) grew in the Carboniferous Period and shared their heyday with dinosaurs during the Mesozoic Era. Fortunately, conifers survived geological upheavals, climate changes and competition from flowering plants when they arrived on the scene. Unfortunately, conifers have experienced a decline ever since. But not to worry, they will grace our planet for a while longer.

Conifers come in a wide range of leaf/needle colors, textures and sizes. Some of the cones differ in shape, such as the berries of yews and junipers. Most keep their needles all year, but a few are deciduous. Drive through any neighborhood, and you’ll see mature spruces dwarfing houses, yews blocking front doors and junipers obstructing motorists’ line of sight.

This holiday season, try using a live Christmas tree in your house and then planting it in your yard to enjoy for years to come.

Many local nurseries that offer cut trees now offer live trees with roots in a ball shape covered in a biodegradable material, such as burlap. You can choose from several sizes: miniature, dwarf, intermediate and large. Always check – and believe – the nursery tag’s mature height information.

Planting a balled and burlap tree takes a little planning. First, choose the proper site outside and dig the planting hole in late autumn before the ground freezes. Store the soil in a garage or shed where it won’t freeze solid. Cover or protect the hole in some way to prevent people from falling into it, especially if it’s located in the front yard.

Choose your container conifer from a good nursery, move it inside for no more than 10 days, decorate it and have a happy holiday. After Christmas, take down the decorations, move the tree out to the pre-dug hole, plant it using the stored soil for fill, water it, mulch it and walk away until spring.

Choose fir, spruce or pine depending on what fits your outdoor site. How do you tell the difference?

Fir (Abies) needles grow singly from the branch, feel flat and smooth with rounded tips and smell pleasingly aromatic. Firs like a well-drained site with slightly acidic soil. They won’t grow well if the air is polluted with dust or industrial impurities.

Spruce (Picea) needles also grow singly, but are stiff and sharply pointed. A cross section reveals they are square, not flat like a fir.

Pine (Pinus) needles grow in groups of two, three or five called bundles. Their length and pliability distinguish them from other conifers. Pines like a well-drained soil not too rich in nutrients. Choose it for those gravelly spots where other trees won’t grow.

Why not grow a tree that has a pedigree of 300 million years?

Ask the Expert

Are poinsettias poisonous? I’ve heard it both ways.
The white sap can be mildly irritating, but no, the poinsettia is not poisonous (to humans and pets). Research done at Ohio State University disproved that myth.

When should I prune my rose of Sharon?
In Illinois, we refer to the perennial hibiscus plant as the rose of Sharon. It blooms on new growth, so prune in February when it’s dormant. You can remove dead wood at any time.


  1. Howard carr says:

    Are sure that the tree picture is not upside down?

  2. Alexia Soutsos-Abrams says:

    Can you please delete my comment.
    I didn’t realize it was public and my phone number would be published publicly.

    Thank you,
    Alexia Soutsos Abrams

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