A living Christmas tree can become a permanent, growing commemoration of this season, a milestone year, a move into your new home, a recent marriage, birth of a child, or other special family event.

Most homeowners are aware of only two choices for a Christmas tree: a freshly cut tree –– often called a “live” tree –– or an artificial one.


But there is a third option that is more sustainable and makes sense for many families: an actual living Christmas tree.


Particularly for those of us who are environmentally conscious, using a living tree that can continue to grow and add value around your home may be a fine alternative. Plus, the living tree can become a permanent, growing commemoration of this season, a milestone year, a move into your new home, a recent marriage, birth of a child or any other special family event.


Most garden centers now offer a selection of evergreen trees, still growing with their roots contained in a large pot or burlap wrapping, and well suited for use as a living Christmas tree. And because this tree will become a permanent feature at your home, you’ll need to take some important steps now to assure a prudent investment:


- Choose a living tree that suits your garden and that you are physically able to manage. You’ll need to move it around several times: getting it indoors, setting it up for Christmas and planting it in your garden.


- Put some thought into choosing the location where your living tree will be planted, considering that it will become larger as it matures.


- Prepare the planting hole before the ground freezes solid. Fill the hole with loose leaves or hay to keep it from freezing. Store the extra soil you remove where it will stay unfrozen until you are ready to plant. For larger trees, pound stakes into the ground now to hold guy-wires for stabilizing the top.


This year, we’ve been fortunate to have ground that is not frozen, greatly facilitating the preparation of a site for your tree. Once you dig the planting hole, you can use it to store your living tree until it’s time to bring it indoors. It can also be held in your unheated garage, if that’s more convenient.


The root area should be thawed when you bring it into your home, and choose the coolest possible location to set it up. To assure it maintains its winter dormancy, we recommend minimizing the time your living tree spends indoors to seven to 10 days (less is preferable). This should be the maximum time for most trees if indoor temperatures are above 65 degrees. And be sure to maintain even moisture around the roots until it is planted in the ground.


Plant your living tree into the ground immediately when you take it out of the house, even if the temperature is below freezing. Or if the weather is truly miserable, you can hold it for a few days in a cool location. Follow normal planting guidelines, which are available at the garden center, and immediately water-in thoroughly.


Mulch about 6 inches deep with bark or woodchips around the base where the soil was disturbed, which moderates soil temperature fluctuations and helps prevent the root system from heaving. Stabilizing the top with a stake or guy-wires helps reduce sway and enables the roots to become well established. Next April, be sure to pull back all but 1 to 2 inches of mulch from around the trunk, making sure the root crown is open to the air.


The experts at your local garden center can provide more detailed information specific to your needs. Given the warmer-than-usual weather this December, this could be the ideal year to consider that third alternative and start a family tradition that you’ll enjoy for years to come.


R. Wayne Mezitt is a third-generation nurseryman, a Massachusetts certified horticulturist and chairman of Weston Nurseries of Hopkinton, www.WestonNurseries.com.