How to care for your potted Christmas tree

stock photo showing garden centre interior with group of real, dwarf spruce christmas trees picea planted in red, plastic plant pots
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What's the best way to care for a potted Christmas tree both during the festive season and beyond?

A potted Christmas tree will have been grown for at least a year in its container, and so as it is a real Christmas tree, what you're really buying is a temporary houseplant. When buying one, find out if your potted Christmas tree is actually container-grown or has been recently dug up and potted, as there is often confusion between the two.

Put simply, the British Christmas Tree Growers Association (BCTGA) explain to us: 'A container-grown tree has been grown in the pot. A potted tree may be container-grown, but is often dug from the plantation and replanted in a pot prior to sale.'

With container-grown trees, roots are developed in the container, so it is said to be stronger and more healthy (as it hasn't been dug up). 'It is often possible to lift the whole root system out of the pot and see the closely woven root that has grown in the pot,' BCTGA told Horticulture Week.

Potted Christmas trees: expert advice

• When should I bring my potted Christmas tree indoors?

You should bring your potted tree indoors as late as possible, the RHS advise. The weekend before Christmas is ideal, and it's advised not to keep living trees in the house for longer than 12 days.

• How often should I water my potted Christmas tree?

As with most houseplants, it's the watering that's the thing. Too much and your potted Christmas tree will die of 'trench foot', too little and the leaves will turn brown and fall. Always check that the container has good drainage and some sort of saucer underneath to catch any excess water.

Bloom & Wild's plant expert, Keira Kay, explains: 'Trees are like flowers – they need to drink too! So make sure your tree's soil always feels damp (never waterlogged). We recommend checking it every couple of days. Touch the soil with your fingertips. If the top few inches feel dry, your tree is probably a bit thirsty.'

• Where's the best spot in my home to place a potted Christmas tree?

The location is important – your tree needs to be in the right spot to avoid excessive moisture loss. 'Find a spot with light and try to keep it away from radiators and drafts as these will dry out your tree and make its needles drop,' Kiera adds.

• How should I decorate my potted Christmas tree?

Try to avoid overwhelming the tree with too many heavy decorations – the weight can negatively affect the longevity of the tree, making the branches dip down and then ornaments fall off.

Kiera suggests opting for 'LED lights, with small bulbs, as larger lights can scorch or dry out the needles of the tree, meaning it'll turn brown quicker'. And always make sure to turn the lights off before bed!

decorated potted christmas tree on wooden crate with gifts and advent calendar at home
Westend61 - Getty Images

• What size potted Christmas tree should I get?

One of the main downsides of container trees is that the roots of all trees are pretty ferocious and the taller the tree the more roots are needed to keep the water supply going. So to work in containers, these trees tend to be pretty small, around 3-5 feet. Anything larger just isn't going to be happy in a pot and is going to be very difficult to manoeuvre.

• When should I plant it in the garden and can I bring it in again next year?

Planting out will probably be fine – put it in a sunny spot and it'll grow well and put on a season of growth both in its branches and roots. But once a tree gets to about six feet, the roots needed to sustain it are going to be more spread than can be put into a container. If you have to chop off a lot of the roots to bring it indoors next year, it may also be unstable once planted back out, so it might be a good idea to stake it in place firmly.

When planted in the garden, it's important to place your potted Christmas tree in the right spot. Put fir trees in a sheltered spot as they like cool, moist conditions, and think about its position during hot summers, as it shouldn't be in direct sunlight. Also, ensure it's well watered during dry spells.

• Can I slow the growth of my potted Christmas tree?

One way to slow the growth during the year (of both the top and the roots) would be to keep it in its container, but it will need an awful lot of looking after especially through the summer to stop it drying out.

So, depending on the height of the tree, you may be able to plant it in the garden and then bring it in for one more season but it's unlikely to be feasible after that.

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