Christmas Conifers Plants with fall and winter interest

When a Christmas Tree Refuses to Die

Sometimes a Christmas tree will sprout, right in your living room! Photo: Grégory Thiell, flickr & clairemedium.com

Question: My Christmas tree, a balsam fir, is producing fresh green shoots. Some are 6 inches (15 cm long) and I have to water it 3 times a day to keep it from drying out. How long can it live in water and what can I do with the new shoots?

J. Tousignant

Answer: The phenomenon you are experiencing is rare, but not unheard of. It sometimes happens that a cut conifer awakens from its winter dormancy and, if so, its buds will start to grow. As you’ve noticed, the tree will then be in full growth and so its watering needs will increase. And sometimes too, a cut fir tree can survive more than the usual two or three weeks: up to 72 days. Eventually, however, your tree will die, because a cut-off conifer with such a thick trunk simply does not have the capacity to produce roots. And a tree without roots is doomed.

The new shoots will die with the tree. Theoretically, you could remove them and use them as cuttings, but that’s not likely to be useful for you unless need several fir trees on your property. Generally, it’s just as quick (and less expensive) to start fir trees from seed as from cuttings.

It makes more sense to think of your cut Christmas tree as a temporary decoration and put it outside when you’re ready to end the festive season.

Second Life for a Christmas Tree

You can reuse a Christmas tree as an outdoor winter decoration. Photo: http://www.dharanihealingarts.com

You don’t have to throw your fir tree away, however. You can easily install it outdoors as a winter decoration. (For example, in my garden we always use our old Christmas tree to hide the trash can.) Or as a winter shelter for birds. 

As long as winter in your area is cold, any needle loss will soon stop and the tree will stay green for a very long time.

In spring, the needles that fall to the ground make a good mulch and you can also cut the branches and reduce them into mulch as well. Its trunk, now bare, can become a plant stake or be cut into sections as firewood. 

Or maybe your municipality composts Christmas trees. If so, you can put it out so it can be carted away and recycled.

Larry Hodgson is one of Canada’s best-known garden communicators. He has notably been editor-in-chief of HousePlant Magazine, Fleurs, Plantes et Jardins, À Fleur de Pot and Houseplant Forum magazines and is currently the garden correspondent for Le Soleil and radio garden commentator for CKIA-FM Radio. He has written for many garden publications in both the United States and Canada, including Canadian Gardening, Harrowsmith, Horticulture, Fine Gardening and Organic Gardening. He also speaks frequently to horticultural groups throughout Canada and the U.S. His book credits include The Garden Lover’s Guide to Canada, Complete Guide to Houseplants, Making the Most of Shade, Perennials for Every Purpose, Annuals for Every Purpose, and Houseplants for Dummies, as well as nearly 60 other titles in English and French. He is a past president of the Garden Writers Association (now Garden Communicators International) and the winner of the prestigious 2006 Garden Media Promoter Award offered by the Perennial Plant Association. He resides in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada.

1 comment on “When a Christmas Tree Refuses to Die

  1. Although giant redwoods are sometimes used as Christmas trees, the common coastal redwood is very rarely uses as such, just because it needs to be shorn more than other conifers to become a nice fluffy Christmas tree. However, if put in water, it can survive long enough to develop callus growth that can eventually develop shoots and roots! Of course it would be easier to take cuttings that to try to grow redwoods from their callus growth, but it is amusing. Small superfluous trunks are sometimes cut and used as fence posts. If installed in an upright position in autumn, these fence posts can actually grow into trees!

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