Hansen's Northwest Native Plant Database


Green Ideas for the Holidays (and the whole year)


Christmas tree: Think living Native!

If you must have a dead tree, dispose of it responsibly

Green-wise Gifts

Make your own decorations

Share those leftovers!

It's a wrap!

Christmas tree: Think Living Native!

If you are tired of picking up pine needles from the floor or bending wire branches to resemble a real tree, consider giving yourself a true gift--a live container grown Northwest Native Tree. It's a choice that has all the good points going for it and eliminates all the negatives associated with a pretend tree in a box (artificial) or a cut "dead" tree (yes, once a tree is cut, it dies!). Here are some of the benefits of having a living Christmas tree:

  • Cost savings. You may pay as much for a living tree as you would for a dead one, but you can plant your living tree in the landscape after the holidays. Don't need one in your yard? Give it to a friend, a school, a neighborhood park, a church, a cemetery, etc.

  • Clean. A living tree does not shed all its needles, does not need a tree stand, smells wonderful naturally--much more fragrant than a dead tree. It also helps clean the air in your home because it is alive.

  • Good for the earth. Living trees do not contribute to deforestation and they do contribute to clean air, clean water, and rich soil.

  • Celebrate wildlife. This is a good time to add a tree that will attract birds and other wildlife. See our Landscape page for tips on building a wildlife habitat in your yard.

  • More choices. You can select from a large number of Northwest Native evergreen trees for your living tree. There are choices for all styles of trees and decor.

For a traditional full look:

Pacific Silver Fir (Abies amabilis)

White Fir (Abies concolor)

Grand Fir (Abies grandis)

Douglas Fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii)

For a southwestern or high desert look:

Sub-Alpine Fir (Abies lasiocarpa)

Noble Fir (Abies procura)

Giant Sequoia (Sequoia giganteum)

Coast Redwood (Sequoia sempervirens)

For a more unusual and striking tree:

Baker's or Modoc Cypress (Cupressus bakeri--rare and very choice)

Sitka Spruce (Picea sitchensis)

Western Hemlock (Tsuga heterophylla)

Or Northwest Native cedars such as

Incense Cedar (Calocedrus decurrens--divine fragrance)

Alaska Cedar (Chamaecyparis nootkatensis)

If you're cramped for space, try the beautiful, fragrant and striking

Western Red Cedar aka Giant Arborvitae (Thuja plicata)

Englemann Spruce (Picea engelmannii)

Have a more Oriental look with

Brewer's or Weeping Spruce (Picea breweriana)

Mountain Hemlock (Tsuga mertensiana)

Here are some tips for caring for your living Christmas tree:

Buy just the right size of a tree for the space it will occupy in your home, and decide where to plant it outside after the holidays--remember how the tree will look when it grows up.

A tree in a container or one with it's roots wrapped in burlap will both work well as a living tree.

Store your new tree in a cool area outdoors where it will have wind protection until you are ready to bring it inside. A couple of days before you bring it in, move it to an unheated garage or other enclosure. You must limit the time spent in the home to 10 days, so plan on a place for it to rest until it's time to bring indoors. This is the most important factor in the survival of your new tree--don't keep it inside too long! If you do, it may think it's springtime and when you plant it outdoors where it is still winter, the tree will suffer a shock. Don't confuse your tree! How about starting a new tradition: bring your tree indoors on Christmas eve and plant it outside on New Year's.

Check your tree each week to make sure it has enough water. You want the tree to be as healthy as possible when it makes it's debut as a living holiday tree.

As soon as possible after purchasing your tree, decide where you will finally plant your tree and dig the hole. Make sure to dig a large enough hole for the root ball to relax. Place a board or other cover over the hole until planting time. It's a good idea to put some mulch either in the hole or over the board so it will be handy when you plant your tree. Be sure to save the dirt from the hole, you'll need it for planting. If your tree is large or the area is windy, drive some support stakes where they'll be needed.

Protect your floors--put the burlap root ball or nursery pot in a big plastic bag or other waterproof solution so you can water your tree while it's inside.

Water carefully! Not too much, not too little! Allow it to just barely dry out and then water well but don't let it stand in water. As soon as the tree gets a good drink, take out any excess water (a turkey baster is a good tool for this).

Display your tree in a large pot or cover the waterproofed nursery pot with a nice tree skirt or other covering. A quilt makes a lovely country style cover. Use satin or velvet for an elegant appearance. Cotton or polyester batting looks like snow. Some clean burlap will go nicely in a homespun setting. Make a very unusual cover by weaving old ribbons through chicken wire or hardware cloth--sturdy and beautiful.

Place your living Christmas tree carefully indoors. Avoid direct sunlight. Keep away from any heat source such as furnace vents or fireplaces and try to keep the temperature inside a little on the cool side, especially at night.

You can decorate your living tree with all the usual things--lights (miniatures please), colorful ornaments, garland. 

After the holidays, if you are planting your tree, do so as soon as possible but don't take it immediately outside. Trees don't usually move around much on their own so it's best to take it outside in stages. Move to a garage or unheated area of the home for several days, then outside in a protected space for several more days, then finally to it's new home. If you get a cold snap in the weather on planting day, wait until the temperatures are in the 30's before planting. If your tree's root ball is wrapped in burlap, place it in the hole and then cut and remove any strings or wire. The burlap will compost right in the hole so there's no need to take it out. Fill in the hole with the dirt you reserved, mulch well and water thoroughly. Check your new tree often during it's first year to make sure it has enough water. A nice thing to do is place a permanent marker beside the tree that tells what year you planted it and any special family events that happened during the holidays.

If your tree came in a nursery pot, return the empty pot to the nursery the next time you're out. We appreciate this very much and nothing is wasted. Or, you can use it yourself to plant some Fawn lilies (Erythronium oreganum) to bloom in the spring. Maybe a little vignette for a shaded patio with trillium, Deer Fern (Blechnum splicant), Licorice Fern (Polypodium glycrrhiza), Wild Ginger (Asarum caudatum), or other small Northwest Native perennial

An alternative to planting out in the landscape is to keep the tree in a container. You can use it as a living Christmas tree for many years if you've selected one that does not grow too large too quickly. If you choose this route, it's nice to get a plant dolly (just a frame with wheels) to make it easier to move around. Also, plant a nice Northwest Native groundcover such as Kinnikinnik (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi) beside the tree in the container as a living mulch to help prevent drying out.

If you must have a dead tree, re-use it if possible and then dispose of it responsibly.

Many areas provide a chipping service for dead trees. For a small fee you can have your tree chopped into mulch that will be used in parks or other public places.

Use your dead tree as a model to see how a real tree will look in your garden. Stick it in the ground where you are considering a Northwest Native tree to observe how it will look. You can move it around to find just the right spot.

Turn the dead tree into a bird or squirrel feeding station. Tie it to any upright structure (fence post, clothesline pole, etc.) or set it into the ground. Decorate with suet cakes, seed balls, garlands of cranberries. Cut oranges in half, scoop out the pulp and fill with suet, tie on the tree with raffia.

Cut it up and use the pieces. The branches and needles make a good mulch. The trunk can be used in a twig construction or as a bean pole or tomato stake. On May 1, get all the neighborhood kids together and make a Maypole!

Make your own decorations.

This is a great family affair. String popcorn and cranberries (use to decorate outside trees and shrubs after the holidays as a treat for the birds). Make garlands out of any colorful paper or fabric. Hint: magazines are colorful! Cut snowflakes out of newspaper or junk mail. Oregon Grape is a lovely alternative to holly.

Share those leftovers!

Do you have lots of leftovers from your feast? Package it up and take it to the nearest shelter for homeless people or abused women and children. Take it to elderly friends. Call any church or community help organization and ask if they can use it. Many have lists of folks in need. Don't let good food go to waste.

It's a wrap!

Avoid using "gift wrap" at all times. Note: there are special papers made from recycled materials and printed with soy ink that are better than regular "commercial" gift wrap. While these are not harmful to nature, they are considered by many to be a waste of time, energy and money. According to a publication by ULS Report and Earth Share, if every family re-used just 2 feet of holiday ribbon, the 38,000 miles of ribbon saved could tie a bow around the entire planet!

Give gifts that do not need wrapping.

Remember that gift certificate idea?

Or buy a Northwest Native plant for all your friends and family. Small ones can be container plants, big ones can go in the landscape. I gave some newly married friends a pair of Giant Sequoias (Sequoia giganteum) and suggested they take them out to a spot in the wilderness that was special to them and plant them. Then go visit on each anniversary.

Give your time or talents.

  • Tend someone's garden--mulch or clean up leaves and debris from stormy weather.
  • Clean out someone's gutters.
  • Wash someone's car each month for a year.
  • Take somebody shopping.
  • Volunteer to baby-sit.
  • Clean the outside of someone's windows.
  • Teach someone to play piano or paint a picture or weave a basket (Northwest Native willows make great basket material).
  • A friend of Jennifer's once created a simple casserole recipe and taught her children how to make it for dinner. 

Make the wrapping a part of the gift.

  • Use material remnants and scraps of ribbon or trimming on a gift for someone who sews.
  • Put kitchen utensils or gifts of food in a dishtowel.
  • Fill gardening gloves with seeds, small tools, gardener's soap, hand lotion and tuck in a sprig of Incense Cedar (Calocedrus decurrens).
  • Buy containers at yard sales--baskets, pretty tins, fabric boxes--and create your own gift baskets.
  • An ancient custom from the Orient is to wrap gifts in a beautiful scarf tied in the shape of a flower (there are special scarves made just for this purpose).
  • Give everybody a fabric shopping bag filled with homemade cookie mixes and a wooden spoon or tea blends and some crochet slippers. 

Use newspaper for a wrapper.

If someone gives you a gift wrapped in commercial paper, for earth's sake re-use it. Don't burn it in the fireplace or try to compost it unless it's made of recycled material. You can use a little bit of gift wrap if you're actually making paper though but be conservative.

This list is subject to growth and change as education continues and new opportunities become available. Come back and visit often. If you have ideas for good ways to love our earth, please email them to me: star@chillirose.com. We'll update this site from time to time with your ideas.

Green holiday ideas at the following websites:

Contact:  star@chillirose.com ~ Copyright 2012 Wallace W. Hansen ~ All rights reserved