Ask Design Mom: Potted Christmas Trees

November 22, 2010

Hi Gabrielle. I’m trying to find an alternative to our fire-hazard cut Christmas tree this year. Artificial trees don’t appeal to my taste; I really prefer living breathing things over synthetics. I’ve seen companies online that sell living, potted Christmas trees, but they’re not very affordable. Has Design Mom seen any other cool house plants that might work as a Christmas tree? Thanks for considering the question and for keeping up such a great site! — Mary

Images by Martha Stewart

Great question, Mary. I love the idea of real potted trees for Christmas trees! Have you seen the Anthropologie windows this year? At ours, the displays are full of potted Christmas trees with the pots wrapped in burlap. They look wonderful. I know big potted trees can be expensive, but I would recommend getting a more affordable medium size one (maybe in the 3.5-4 foot range) at your local nursery and displaying it on a low table. A medium size tree on a two foot table brings it to normal tree height and will look great. And then you can plant it in the spring!

My mom used to do something similar with our cut trees when I was a kid and I still copy her. Christmas trees on a raised surface (even cinder blocks covered in a piece of fabric or a tablecloth would work) make for more display space underneath the tree (for trains or gifts or whatever you like) and keep the branches out of reach of toddlers. They’re also smart in homes or apartments where space is an issue. In Martha Stewart’s Christmas Tree Gallery, you can see lots of examples of medium-size trees on raised surfaces — tons of inspiration!

What about you, Dear Readers? Have you ever used a live potted tree for Christmas? Any bargain sources you can share?

P.S. — Come back in a bit and I’ll have our first sibling gift DIY posted for 2010. It’s such a cool project! Good for grown-ups or kids.

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{ 28 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Boston Mamas November 22, 2010 at 1:01 pm

What perfect timing Gabrielle! I was just asking Jon about getting a small elevated tree this year because this summer we installed wall to wall cabinets along our dining room (one corner of which is where the Christmas tree usually goes). We don’t really have a good new space for a traditional tall tree. Thanks for sharing! -Christine


2 Design Mom November 22, 2010 at 1:58 pm

Yay! Glad I could help, Christine.


3 Chassity November 22, 2010 at 1:07 pm

Oh, GREAT idea. My husband and I have been at odds about what to do this year since Lilly just turned one and is into everything. This might be the perfect solution!


4 Design Mom November 22, 2010 at 1:58 pm

I hope this works out for you, Chassity. We have loved this solution when we have 1 and 2 year olds in the house.


5 Jen Lewis November 22, 2010 at 1:18 pm

I haven’t ever used a potted tree, but I am a huge fan of a smaller tree. We currently have a synthetic tree that’s about 3 feet tall. We place it on top of our entertainment center so it’s the focus of the room despite being so small. Then we can decorate the top of the entertainment center to go along with the tree. I love it! Those Martha Stewart trees are to die for!


6 Design Mom November 22, 2010 at 1:57 pm

Perfect plan, Jen. Thanks for sharing.


7 Anne November 22, 2010 at 1:30 pm

I love seeing potted rosemary as a small (sometimes, tiny) tree alternative. They smell amazing, and are easier to put in the ground than a large tree.


8 Design Mom November 22, 2010 at 1:57 pm

Great idea, Anne. I agree. They smell wonderful!


9 Whitney November 22, 2010 at 1:42 pm

Depending on your climate, overwintering a pine inside usually doesn’t bode well for spring planting. Especially if you haven’t had it indoors prior to your first frost.


10 Design Mom November 22, 2010 at 1:56 pm

Good to know, Whitney. I would definitely plan on getting advice/instructions from a local Nursery.


11 Lauren M. November 22, 2010 at 3:28 pm

Our family uses a potted tree


12 Liz November 22, 2010 at 3:34 pm

We have only used live trees for the last 8 years in our home. A small tree is definitely recommended (3.5-4 feet), larger trees have much larger root balls and thus, pots. We learned this the hard way when having to tow dolly our first tree (5-6 foot pine) through the front door! Also, unless you have the space, a line of pines in your yard is not exactly ideal. They grow quickly, sometimes 2-3 feet per year, and are not the greatest in terms of longevity. We have opted for alternate forms of evergreens over the years. Varieties of arborvitae, cyprus, cedar, and juniper are widely available and in many cases more reasonably priced than standard pines at this time of year. The drawback is that they do not necessarily have the branch structure necessary to hang heavy ornaments. We end up going very simple on the tree with tiny twinkle lights and a few lighter weight ornaments and use our other stash of sentimental favs around the house in other places. Hope this helps! My husband will not go with the artifical or throwaway so we have made due. As long as he finds a good place to plant it, it’s cool with me!


13 Lauren M. November 22, 2010 at 3:35 pm

Sorry! Distracted by kids, and clicked the wrong button…
What I meant to type was, my family has used a potted tree the last several years. In our climate (Southern California) we can leave it in the container year round, as long as the roots have enough space, and then plant it after a year or two. We get them from our local nursery for about the same price as a cut 6 foot tree would cost, but they are only about 3 feet tall when we first buy them.


14 Leah B December 3, 2010 at 12:06 am

I live in Southern California too and was just looking into what kind of trees are best to do this with. I would like to keep it around a couple years then be able to plant it in the back of the property after. What kind of tree have you found works bests and allows a couple years of growth before having to be planted?
Thanks for the info!


15 kitchen-dreams November 22, 2010 at 5:00 pm

Arborvite are very reasonably priced and do well year after year in the same pot. They make wonderful deck plants. You can find a full one and trim it into a perfectly shaped Christmas tree. Our local Home Depot in Portland, OR has 4 feet Arborvite for $9.99 and 6 footers for $29.99. Happy Holidays!


16 Lindel November 22, 2010 at 7:17 pm

For the past couple of years we have used some dead branches or twigs from our yard (proibably still a fire hazzard but we are in the Southern hemisphere so there are no heaters and fires blazing inside at christmas!). Sometimes I spray paint them and sometimes we leave them natural. I put them in a large glass vase filled with something heavy and decorative (pebbles or marbles) then decorate the branches with simple cordinating decorations that I either inherited or made. We then put it on our mantle piece (away from our puppy and toddler) and place presesnts under it (we don’t have to many gifts as our families have a kris kringle system).

I have also seen pictures in magazines where any largish houseplant looks pretty special when decorated for christmas. It doesn’t have to be the typical shape, but the decorations and presents will make its intention known. (I’ll try find a link)


17 Annie November 22, 2010 at 7:39 pm

Every year we have something to celebrate (new house, new kid, etc) we buy a balled and burlap tree and plant it after Christmas. The only thing is that you can’t keep a live tree inside for more than a week, so we still use a fake tree so we can have it up longer.


18 judith November 22, 2010 at 7:43 pm

With 6 sweet kids, 3 of whom are 3 and under, I have been planning to have a potted tree. I’m thinking spruce, something I’d like to plant come spring. I love the smell and can’t get away from a live tree but the thought of fighting little ones off the tree for weeks makes me deep breathe.


19 Ashlea Walter November 22, 2010 at 7:48 pm

We have a Norfolk pine in our home and although the shape is more of an upside-down Christmas tree, we use it with a few lights and paper ornaments and I think it’s charming. One year I got a real Christmas tree, decorated it and had it on the opposite side of the room. I swear to this very day that poor ole Norfolk was terribly dejected because of it. “Why not me?! What’s wrong with me?!”

Here’s to real trees!


20 rkwpnw November 22, 2010 at 8:36 pm

In portland (OR ) we have
who deliver the tree and later plant it in neighborhoods, schools etc.


21 Mary Yang November 22, 2010 at 9:19 pm

WONDERFUL feedback! Thank you, Gabrielle and readers! I’m so inspired now and heading to my local nursery with a list of possibilities!


22 Mickey November 23, 2010 at 12:52 am

I love this idea! Simply stunning and wonderfully smart! We were looking for something a bit smaller this year and I love this idea. Thanks for the beautiful photos!


23 Cassidy M. November 23, 2010 at 2:48 am

we didn’t do a potted treee, but we did get a permit to head up to the mountains and cut our own. It did not look as perfect as the ones in stores, but we loved it and trimmed it up and by the time we were done no one would be the wiser. We did continue to water and then planted it end of January, but we do live in Vegas. The tree planted wonderfully! We were sure to cut the base again and then in keep in soil water for a bit getting it ready to plant.


24 Tanya November 23, 2010 at 7:17 am

Ooh these are SUPER cute. I am looking for alternates this year too so I appreciate the tips.


25 Beth November 23, 2010 at 10:44 am

I saw some just last night at BJ’s ; they were priced affordably!


26 kelley November 24, 2010 at 3:06 pm

Lucky for everyone, I ran across this blog. We have really nice live potted christmas trees from $20-$129. Table Tops $20, 4 ft spruce only $40, or get a full size potted tree 5-6ft only $99-$129 you’ll need a dolly but they are really nice. Holly Acres Nursery 5403 Hwy 86 in Elizabeth, Colorado. 303-646-8868 Huge selection of fresh cut live trees too! And since I have everyones attention there will be a FREE EVENT FOR FAMILIES at the nursery this weekend. Free Sleigh Rides, visits with Santa, Free Pony Rides!
Everyone is invited! Its going to be fun.


27 Jennifer November 24, 2010 at 6:06 pm

Those are pretty. What a great idea. It saves a tree and money.


28 kelly November 28, 2010 at 3:05 pm

Yes! We did this for our baby’s first christmas (potted tree), and now it is front and center in our backyard growing (almost as fast as she is). We bought ours at our local nursery, City Floral in Denver. It wasn’t cheap but talk about a gift that keeps on giving :).


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