With holiday downsizing due to the pandemic, you might want to consider an alternative to the traditional Christmas tree that is just as fun and festive. Credit: Stock image / Creative Commons

This story was originally published in November 2020.

If Christmas is going to look a little bit different this year, maybe your Christmas tree should, too. With holiday downsizing due to the pandemic, you might want to consider an alternative to the traditional Christmas tree that is just as fun and festive.

The traditional Christmas trees include coniferous species like balsam fir and white pine. These tall, bushy trees not only look great all decked out, but they make the house smell like a forest, a scent that many people associate with the holiday season.

But there are a number of reasons you might want to stray from tradition. Maybe you want to break from tradition in general, or you need a smaller plant this year because you are celebrating Christmas with a smaller group, or even alone. Pandemic aside, Adam Dyar, operations manager at McClure’s Tree Nursery in Kingfield, said that Christmas tree shoppers have increasingly been looking for new types of trees to deck out.

“We have seen an evolution in Christmas tree species that would be considered the most commonly used,” Dyar said. “The Fraser fir has superior needle retention and has become a premium tree. If you want something with color, look for a blue spruce or a Meyer spruce, which offer very sturdy branches but also come with sharper needles — the perfect deterrent for cats and dogs who may want to climb or jump on the tree.”

An added benefit to the blue spruce is that you can purchase a living variety and plant it after the season is done, which is another trend Dyar has noticed in Christmas tree shopping.

Rob Moody from Moody’s Nursery and Garden Center in Saco warned that these sharp needles might also prick you or your curious family members.

Moody said that a shopper looking for a Christmas tree at a slightly smaller scale that can also serve as a landscape plant might like an emerald arborvitae or a dwarf Alberta spruce, or even a shrub like an evergreen holly or boxwood tree.

Melissa Higgins, wholesale manager at Sprague’s Nursery in Bangor, suggested a Norfolk Island pine, a small shrubby plant that has the look of a compact Christmas tree.

“[That] would be a great alternative as it’s a houseplant here in Maine and would thrive staying indoors,” Higgins said. “They look amazing with some twinkling lights and shiny bulbs.”

Moody also suggested the winterberry, a species of holly native to eastern North America in the United States.

“Red Sprite comes to mind as a cultivar that reliably produces many berries, and maintains a manageable size in the landscape,” Moody said.

He said that almost any potted house plant can sub for a Christmas tree, as long as you decorate it.

“Why not a philodendron if you have one?” Moody said. “Rosemary is an edible option. With newer smaller lights the options are limited by your creativity. It’s difficult [to] not feel the warmth of Christmas with anything decorated with lights.”

For potted plants, Moody said an unglazed pot is the best choice as they breathe and control moisture better, and you should be careful not to over water in the winter.

Even if you are having a small Christmas celebration, having some sort of decorative holiday plant will help bring the spirit of the season into your home.

“I do realize this year and other circumstances may bring a weight to the season, but we have to get ourselves through it,” Mood said. “A decorated houseplant can get you most of the way through winter.”