Guide To Outdoor Christmas Trees

Planting an evergreen in your yard so you can decorate it for Christmas is a great way to start a tradition you and your neighbors will all enjoy.

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Ever wish you had an outdoor Christmas tree on your property? I do, and it’s a joy.

I had a Norway spruce I used to regularly decorate for Christmas. Eventually, though, the tree outgrew my ladder. Fortunately, I have a much smaller Alberta spruce that should never get too big for me to decorate it.

That was the first lesson I learned about growing an outdoor Christmas tree — make sure it’s a species that doesn’t grow too tall.

Benefits of an Outdoor Christmas Tree

A properly planted evergreen tree that becomes your outdoor Christmas tree has several benefits:

  • It can be a focal point in the garden all year.
  • It provides cover and protection for small birds and animals.
  • Several planted together in the right location can serve as a windbreak.
  • You can decorate it for Christmas!

Best Outdoor Christmas Trees

Several types of evergreens work well as outdoor Christmas trees.

Do you want an evergreen that will be beautiful for a couple of years but eventually grow too big to decorate? Or do you want a dwarf evergreen that might start out small, grow to decorating size and remain accessible for a long time? There are many options in both categories

Evergreens

Look for kinds with strong branches that will support decorations, even in wind, rain and snow. These include:

  • Most spruce trees: They’ll eventually grow too tall, but their sturdy branches can support all kinds of decorations. Hardiness varies by type, with some growing well in USDA Plant Hardiness Zone 2 or 3 but struggling in Zones 8 and warmer.
  • Fir trees: These are some of our favorite Christmas trees to cut and take indoors, and they also work well outside. Most firs like cooler weather, so be sure to check the particular requirements. Noble, Frasier or Balsam firs are good choices.
  • Pine trees: Many species are available with strong branches. However, the popular Eastern white pine isn’t one of them.

Dwarf Evergreens

If you’re patient enough to wait, a dwarf evergreen will stay small enough to decorate for almost its entire life. Some to consider include:

  • Dwarf Alberta spruce: Picea glauca ‘Conica’ grows a few inches a year before it reaches its mature height of about ten feet. It grows in USDA Plant Hardiness Zones 3 through 6.
  • Dwarf Blue Spruce: Picea pungeons ‘Fat Albert’ tops out at about 10 to 15 feet.
  • Boxwood: Buxus sempervirens can also be decorated for Christmas if it’s pruned regularly to keep it shaped like a Christmas tree, though its branches aren’t as strong as other choices.

Planting and Caring for an Outdoor Christmas Tree

Most evergreens should be planted in the spring to establish strong roots before winter. Keep them well-watered, especially during their first year or two. If you decide to fertilize them, do so in the spring so new growth hardens off before winter. Use a fertilizer labeled for evergreens.

Different species may require different types of pruning, if they are pruned at all. Many evergreens grow well without pruning.

When deciding where to plant your Christmas tree, choose a location where you can see it from inside your house, and passersby can see it as well. Here are a few tips to decorate a living Christmas tree.

How To Decorate an Outdoor Christmas Tree

Tips for decorating your outdoor Christmas tree:

  • Choose lights and extension cords rated for outdoor use. Don’t run extension cords across sidewalks where they may be a tripping hazard. LED lights use less power and don’t get as hot as traditional Christmas lights.
  • Avoid glass ornaments, which may drop and shatter. Tie any ornaments or decorations securely to keep them from blowing off.
  • Avoid bird-friendly ornaments like orange rinds, seed balls or suet cakes. Birds may eat all the decorations in a few days, and you may also attract raccoons, squirrels and other unwelcome pests.
  • Don’t overextend your reach to decorate tall trees. Most evergreens aren’t strong enough to support a leaning ladder. If your tree gets too tall you still want to decorate it, you may need to hire a professional company with a lift bucket to do it for you.
  • Remove decorations promptly after the holidays.

Carol J. Michel
Carol J. Michel is an award-winning author of several books including five gardening humor books and one children's book. As the holder of degrees from Purdue University in both horticulture and computer technology, she spent over three decades making a living in healthcare IT while making a life in her garden. She started writing about gardening on her blog called May Dreams Gardens which lead to numerous magazine articles, her books, and a podcast called The Gardenangelists. She was recently named a GardenComm Fellow by Garden Communicators International.