Is this the year to get a live Christmas tree?

Jim Lutz and his twin sons in front of the Christmas tree
Jim Lutz poses with his twin sons, Justin (left) and Johnny, in front of the family Christmas tree, circa 1990. Linda Lutz says the family enjoyed planting their live trees after the holidays, but they had to get smaller trees to accommodate the root ball in the living room.

After a few years of getting their tree from a corner lot or cutting their own, Hilliard resident Linda Lutz decided she should find out what type of Christmas tree was best for her young family, so she read everything she could find on the subject.

“I researched which option was best for the environment — artificial, live, or cut — then I did a cost analysis to compare prices over time,” she says. “The live tree won, so we tried it.”

For several years after, Linda and her husband, Jim, would dig a hole for their Christmas tree before the ground froze and plant it after the holidays.

Then, they waited. “Because it was winter, the tree would go dormant, so it would be spring before we knew whether it would survive,” Jim says.

Some trees did not last the harshness of winter, but others did. Years later, evergreens of various sizes dotted their yard, marking Christmas memories with their twin sons, Johnny and Justin.

“We looked at the trees in our yard as a passage of time, the way some families mark their children’s height on a door frame each year,” Jim says.

The couple agreed there are upsides and downsides to having live Christmas trees, so they didn’t get one every year. Live trees weigh around 150 pounds, so they take considerably more effort to move. With a large root ball at the bottom, the tree itself must be smaller, so there are fewer branches for ornaments and, importantly, less room for presents underneath.

On the positive side, their boys liked celebrating Christmas with a live tree, and everyone enjoyed the evergreen scent that filled their home.

“Even our cat loved the live tree,” Linda says. “She would cuddle up next to it, thinking we went to all that trouble just for her.”

Live tree tips from an Ohio expert

Matt Mongin is president of the Ohio Christmas Tree Association and owner of Spring Valley Tree Farm. With more than 30 years in the business, he offers these helpful tips for live tree care:

  • Select the right species for your property. Popular Canaan firs grow to be 20 feet tall and 12 feet wide, while some spruces can reach beyond 100 feet. Talk to the tree farmer about the right tree for your yard.
  • Factor in the root ball. A 5-foot live tree comes with an 18-inch root ball, so choose a smaller live tree than you would a cut tree.
    Recruit a few friends. Live trees are heavy. Mongin recommends having several people to carry the tree up any steps, then setting it on a rug or plastic sheet to slide it to its final display spot. Some of his customers use skateboards to get the tree where it needs to go. Another option: Have your tree delivered.
  • Store your tree until spring. After Christmas, keep the tree in a garage or other cool shelter until spring. “Add a cupful of water to the root ball every week, and it will be fine,” he says. “We have a 95% success rate with this method.”

Keep your cut tree beautiful all season

Choosing a cut tree this year? Mongin offers this advice:

  • Set yourself up for success. For the ultimate stability, use drywall screws to attach a traditional reservoir stand to a 3-foot by 3-foot piece of plywood. “The tree will be immovable,” Mongin says. Put a biodegradable tree bag around the stand for easy post-Christmas cleanup.
  • Stop the sap. Sap on the tree base prevents water from moving up the tree. Remove the sap by cutting one-half inch off the base. If you don’t have a saw, ask the tree seller to cut it for you. Once the tree is in the reservoir, add a gallon of very hot water to dissolve any remaining sap.
  • Keep it cool. The display room should have moderate or no heat and twilight lighting.
  • Check the water level daily. After the first watering, the water can be any temperature, but make sure the tree base always touches water. Additives are optional, but they can add a few more days to your tree.
  • Got pets? Consider a Colorado spruce, which has prickly needles and a scent that cats don’t like. Add a hook to the ceiling to anchor the tree for more stability.