by Courtney Llewellyn

A trend these days among nursery shoppers – particularly Millennials and Gen Z – is sustainability. They want plants that will last and even enhance the natural environment. That’s why some are seeking out living Christmas trees rather than pre-cut or ones they cut themselves.

Those customers need to know what they’re getting into when purchasing a living tree. “We’re seeing more people seeking out that type of tree,” said Joe Gizzarelli, nursery manager at Devitt’s Nursery and Supply in New Windsor, NY. “We try to have a long conversation with customers about the reality of having that tree.”

The reality is that in more northern regions, living trees only have about a 50-50 chance of survival, as planting trees in late December and early January isn’t ideal. “Having a living tree is a wonderful concept, but it’s not always practical,” Gizzarelli said. “Most people want their tree up for a longer period of time, but you usually only want the tree indoors for about a week.” He noted that’s partially a result of younger generations growing up with artificial trees, which can be set up multiple weeks before the holiday. Live trees can’t last as long indoors.

In addition to pre-cut, Devitt’s Nursery sells a few varieties of live trees: four- to five-foot Norway spruce; potted Alberta spruce; and three- to four-foot dwarf blue spruce. Those looking to take advantage of the live tree trend should consider the following when planning ahead for future Christmas celebrations:

  • Consider your climate zone and which conifers grow best in it. The trees Devitt’s Nursery brings in are all from within a 50-mile radius, according to Gizzarelli, and generally more from the north so they’re a little more cold hardy. Tree will lose cold hardiness the longer they’re kept inside.
  • Avoid disturbing the roots. If you’re selling a ball-and-burlap tree, make sure it will stay wrapped up until it’s planted. If it’s potted, encourage customers to keep it in the same pot until it’s planting time.
  • Plan ahead. Gizzarelli said nurseries should advise customers to dig a hole for transplant ahead of time and store that soil in a spot where it won’t freeze. They should also pack the hole with leaves or straw so it doesn’t freeze. He recommended trees be transplanted as soon as their time indoors is done.

However, Michigan State University Extension says in northern climates, “holding trees in a shed or unheated garage and then planting them in the spring is the best solution. Make sure to periodically check the moisture levels and water the plant as needed. Keep the trees in a protected location until springtime and plant them when you would normally plant trees and shrubs in your area.” Which route to take depends on your customers’ geography.

MSU Extension also recommends allowing plenty of room for growth, since almost all conifers used as living Christmas trees grow quickly.