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GardenSMART :: Christmas Tree Alternatives: Learn About Non-Traditional Christmas Trees

Christmas Tree Alternatives: Learn About Non-Traditional Christmas Trees

By Amy Grant,
Photographs courtesy of

It’s never too early to plan for the Christmas holiday! Maybe this year you want to express your creativity and are looking for non-traditional Christmas tree ideas or other alternative Christmas décor. Or maybe you live in a small condo or apartment and simply do not have the space for a large, traditional fir tree and are wondering what other Christmas tree options are out there. Whatever the case, this article will help.


Christmas Tree Options

Of course, an option to chopping down a fresh fir tree for use as your Christmas tree is to utilize one of the many synthetic trees available on the market. While the upside to this is that the tree can be used year after year, the downside is that the composition of these trees is less than eco-friendly and you need space to store it. Still, this is, of course, an option and trees are available in a multitude of sizes and materials (including 100% recyclable cardboard) suitable to even the smallest habitude.

If you just love the scent of a pine tree during the holidays and feel it just isn’t Christmas without a real tree, there are a couple of tree alternatives. First of all, if you must have a full size tree, you might want to look into renting a tree. Yep, this is possible. Renting or “adopting” a tree for use during the holidays will give you the fresh pine aroma and visual of a living tree while sticking to your personal values. Check with local tree providers to see if this service is available. Some companies will even ship or deliver the tree to you.

Of course, another Christmas tree alternative is to purchase a living tree that is potted. Depending upon the variety you choose, the tree can then be planted outdoors after the holiday. A win/win since you get a real tree for the holiday and the earth gets another tree to flourish purifying our air by removing excess carbon dioxide and providing shelter and food to flora and fauna alike. Some good prospects are:


Norfolk Island pine – One of the most traditional potted pines for use at Christmas is the Norfolk Island pine. This pine has short, soft, dark green needles with widely separated, layered branching perfect for hanging ornaments. Some people think it is a bit too sparse looking for a traditional looking tree, but if it was good enough for Charlie Brown… it works well.

Italian stone pine – Italian stone pine is another alternative Christmas tree. This tree has blue-green needles and is native to Spain and Portugal. They prefer dry and cool temps, so keep this in mind if your goal is to return it to plant in the garden after the holiday.

False cypress – False cypress is also a Christmas tree option that can be planted in a pot and is also known as the Lawson or Port Orford cedar. This little beauty is native to northern California and into southern Oregon and exudes a pungent pine aroma. ‘Elwood’ is the dwarf cultivar suited for a tabletop Christmas tree. If you want to plant this tree outside, it likes warmer climates and can grow up to 60 feet!


Leyland cypress – A hybrid of two West Coast related redwoods, a potted Leyland cypress is yet another alternative Christmas tree. It is a deep, dark green, which beautifully showcases decorations. It likes warm climates too and should be planted outside in well-drained soil. Don’t overwater this tree as it is susceptible to root disease.

Weeping figs – Weeping figs and other erect indoor trees can be decorated as well in lieu of an actual “fir” type of tree. Heck, you can string lights around palm trees or decorate an outdoor tree with environmentally friendly ornaments. Make those edible so you have the added bonus of creating a wildlife haven and the fun of watching the critters use it.


Alberta spruce – With soft, green needles and shaped like your typical Christmas tree, you can’t go wrong with an dwarf Alberta spruce potted and decorated to celebrate the holiday season. Keep it in a cool, brightly lit location indoors and replant in the garden in spring.


Alternative Christmas DÉcor

Other plants can be dotted around the home to add Christmas cheer in lieu of a standard, living tree. Potted rosemary is an evergreen herb with a shrubby habit. Small rosemary plants make great stand-ins for traditional trees and can be pruned to train into a cone-shaped Christmas tree. It has sturdy woody stems, which easily support heavier ornaments.


Poinsettias are traditional symbols of the Christmas holiday, but there are a number of other flowering plants available that time of year that will lend holiday cheer with bright colored blooms. Amaryllis, gloxinia, azaleaskalanchoe and Christmas cactus are all such options and they also make great holiday gifts.

Lastly, if you simply do not have a green thumb but want a symbol of the Christmas tree, think outside the box. Trees can be made and decorated with decals, cut outs, outlines with tape or painted on cardboard or paper and hung on a wall, or even, if you don’t mind doing a little spackling later, outlined using tacks or small nails and string or light cordage. Use your imagination and just have fun with your non-traditional Christmas tree décor.

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