8 Living Christmas Trees (that will actually grow in Texas!)
A living Christmas tree is perhaps the most eco-friendly option for those who like to grow plants AND make lasting family memories. They also make great accent trees that bring in the wonderful smells of the forest that only a fresh, living conifer can provide. Living trees are also the perfect gifts (that keep on giving) for the plant lovers on your shopping list. Spruce up plant stands, table-tops and patios with the holly, jolly plants listed below!
More Grinch than Great
While there are quite a few “Christmasy” plants marketed for use as living Christmas trees, most are (unfortunately) not really adapted to our soil and climate — if the end goal is to plant the tree outside. The most common living Christmas tree, already for sale at big-box stores everywhere, is the Norfolk pine. While they can live inside as a tabletop tree for a few years, they can’t quite handle the extreme volatility of our Texas climate once they move outdoors.
Better Trees to “Pine” Over
The good news is, there are actually quite a few evergreen trees, well adapted to our area, that look and smell like Christmas–whether you choose to bring them in for a spell first, or decide to plant them directly in the ground to enjoy. In addition to looking great, branching out with one of the trees below can help provide habitat for wildlife… or even help take the bite of winter cold fronts when planted on the north side of your home.
‘Wichita Blue’ Juniper: Silver-blue foliage, 10-15 feet tall, 4-6 feet wide
These highly ornamental trees are actually cultivars of our Texas native rocky mountain junipers, and in addition to being adapted to our sometimes harsh and unpredictable climate, happen to be the host plant for our olive hairstreak butterfly! Potted trees can thrive in a sunny window for up to a month. Then transfer outside to a sunny location. For best results incorporate compost and or expanded shale, and plant slightly above the existing grade so that excess moisture drains away from the tree.
‘Skyrocket’ Juniper: Blue-green foliage, 15-20 feet tall, 2-3 feet wide
One of the most narrow, upright evergreens on the market also happens to be a cultivar of our native rocky mountain juniper. Potted trees can thrive in a sunny window for up to a month. Then transfer outside to a sunny location. For best results incorporate compost and or expanded shale, and plant slightly above the existing grade so that excess moisture drains away from the tree. ‘Skyrocket’ makes a perfect addition to an evergreen screen or windbreak when planted in the landscape. As a female selection, it also creates crops of blue berries that are popular as winter forage for native birds!
‘Blue Arrow’ Juniper: Blue-green foliage, 12-15 feet tall, 2-3 feet wide
Another narrow, upright cultivar of our native rock mountain juniper, ‘Blue Arrow’ also is well suited as a living Christmas tree. After being kept as a porch decoration, or indoors in a sunny window– they can be planted in well draining, full sun locales. Birds love their blue gray berries and the trees themselves make perfect privacy screens as well as (when incorporated into other plantings)–screening strong winds and road noise.
Eastern Red Cedar: Dark green to bright green foliage, up to 50 feet tall, 25 feet wide
This Texas native evergreen has a naturally conical, single trunked/ somewhat Christmas tree-like shape that can be further trained to eliminate outlying branches to improve resemblance to a traditional Christmas tree-like form. They make perfect specimens for larger area screens or can be incorporated into songbird borders, windbreaks and the like. Potted trees can thrive near a sunny window for up to a month, then transfer outside to a sunny location. Adding additional ornamental value, its reddish-brown bark peels and sheds in long strips on mature trees.
‘Brodie’ Red Cedar: Dark green to bright green foliage, 25 feet tall, 6-8 feet wide
A cultivar of our native Eastern Red Cedar, these Texas tough trees have the perfect upright Christmas tree shape! The foliage is a rich green, with a fine texture, and in winter it takes on attractive gray-green to bronzy tones. Potted trees can thrive near a sunny window for up to a month, then transfer outside to a sunny location. These trees are broad enough to work perfectly for hedges and screens, yet narrow enough to give those powerful vertical accents we all love. It has a single main trunk, only visible at the ground until the tree is quite old, and the reddish-brown bark peels and sheds in long strips on mature trees.
Arizona Cypress: Sage-green to blue-gray foliage, 20-30 feet tall, 8-12 feet wide
If you love the idea of a flocked tree, you just might fall in love with the light blue-gray foliage of our native Arizona cypress. Its not only one of our most beautiful, majestic evergreens, when planted as a specimen or as part of a large screen—their wonderfully scented potted versions can be decorated inside in a sunny location for the month of December! Then plant outside in a full sun location with well-draining soil. We still decorate ours each year with battery powered LED lights and natural ornaments! A bonus: The rough outer bark of older trees scales off revealing colors that range from plum to red.
‘Horstmann’ Blue Atlas Cedar: Gray to blue-green foliage, 8-15 feet tall, 5-6 feet wide
The Horstmann cultivar is a semi-dwarf selection with dense, icy blue foliage on a gracefully branching compact form when they mature. In their pots straight from the nursery, they make the perfect “Charlie Brown” Christmas tree! After a month indoors, plant these specimens outside where they’ll provide architectural, irregular year-round landscape interest. Add to evergreen borders for both form and foliage contrast. Ideal to add winter interest where space is limited.
Rosemary: Dark green foliage, 3-4 feet tall, 2-3 feet wide
While most folks are familiar with this tough shrubby Mediterranean herb, it might not be the best long-term option for an indoor living Christmas tree. The conical topiaried versions are popular this time of year, seen in most box stores and groceries, but they can be great accent “trees” or even gifts– when given the right conditions . The easiest way to kill a rosemary plant is to over water them or to put them in a spot with too little sunlight– which are both easy to do in a home setting. Look for a sunny window and keep watering to a minimum, allowing to drain fully. After using prunings in your favorite holiday meals and cocktails, consider planting in a full sun spot outdoors as soon as possible!
Admittedly, keeping those living trees “living” indoors for an extended period of time can provide its own set of challenges. Most prefer full sun and are best when only kept inside for 3-4 weeks. If you have a sunny window on the south or west side of the home, they may be happier there as well. And like their traditionally harvested real-tree counterparts, these trees require water from time to time. If you don’t have a sunny location to give them a temporary home indoors for the holidays, place them outside in a pot or in the ground! Battery powered lights with timers are inexpensive and these bird seed ornaments might just complete the natural look your going for!