Care for a christmas tree

How to care for a real Christmas tree

Looking after your tree properly is a great way to make sure your tree looks its best for the duration of the Christmas season.

You might need

  • Your real Christmas tree
  • A bucket
  • Panel saw (to trim the trunk)
  • A watering can
  • A pot or a Christmas tree stand (check in store for availability) to place your tree in – make sure it can hold water without leaking

Step 1

Take the tree out of its netting as soon as you get it home to prevent mould and fungus growing in the damp branches.

Step 2

Before you set your tree up, it’s a good idea to give it some water to avoid dehydration. Cut about 25millimetres (mm) off the trunk of the tree using a panel saw so that the cut base of the tree is fresh. Cutting the trunk means it takes in more water – like with fresh cut flowers.

If you’re not setting up your tree straight away, securely place it in a bucket of water in the garden until you’re ready to transfer it to a pot or stand. Keep it in a cool dry place away from wind and direct sunlight.

Step 3

When you are ready to set your tree up, shake the tree outside to remove any loose foliage or insects. You can also bang the bottom of the tree trunk on the ground to remove any dead needles.

Did you know?

When a Christmas tree is cut from its trunk over half of its weight is water.

Step 4

Stand your real tree in a stand or pot. If you need to, chop or saw off the bottom off the trunk so that it fits into your tree stand. Avoid putting your real tree in sand or soil as this can reduce the amount of water it can uptake.

Step 5

Locate your tree away from any heat source such as radiators. Heat will dry out the tree and it will lose its needles faster.

Step 6

Water your real tree every day to keep it looking plump and full. A dehydrated tree will start to droop and wilt very quickly, so moisture is the essential ingredient in looking after your tree. Add a minimum of 500millilitres (ml) of water a day. A real Christmas tree can drink 1 to 2 litres a day depending on its size and your heating.

If your tree is pot-grown, make sure you water the root ball. And if it’s kept outside on a porch, balcony, or in a garden it might need even more water to avoid it drying out.

How to recycle a real Christmas tree

Once the New Year starts to roll around, it’s time to think about how to recycle your tree.

If your tree is cut:

  • Transport it to your nearest Household Waste Recycling Centre for recycling.
  • Find out if your local council offers a curbside collection service. You might receive a flyer or see a public notice with more details. If not, contact your council to confirm what recycling options they offer.

Recycled Christmas trees can be used as mulch in public parks and gardens, and to help prevent beachfront erosion.

If your tree is pot grown:

  • Transplant it into your garden.
  • Re-pot it into a larger-sized container, being careful to give the root ball sufficient space to expand and grow. If successful, you could bring indoors to enjoy next Christmas.

How to Care for a Living Christmas Tree

Pictured: Limber Pine (Pinus flexilis ‘Vanderwolf’s Pyramid’) | Photographed by Tom Story

Skip the Christmas tree lot this weekend and head to your local nursery for the ultimate eco-friendly tree. For first-time success with a container conifer, follow our tips for keeping your living tree healthy through Christmas Eve and for years to come.

Whether or not you’re keen on going green, getting a potted Christmas tree can make a lot of sense. You only need to purchase a tree once and you’ll be set with a tree to bring in for the holidays for years. Plus, once the fella gets too big, you have a great addition to your garden that can bring back memories of Christmases past.

Pictured: Bosnian Pine (Pinus heldreichii leucodermis) | Photographed by Tom Story

Caring for a living tree is relatively easy but there are a few factors you should consider.

Plan ahead

Pick a tree that will thrive in your area. To get started, look up your climate zone and see which conifers grow best there. Once you’ve picked a tree and brought it home, leave it in a sheltered area such as under a covered porch or a larger tree canopy to help the tree adjust to a change in environment. Hose the tree down once and shake off any loose needles before bringing it indoors.

Avoid disturbing the roots

Leave the tree in the container you purchased it in for the first few months. You don’t want to combine transplanting shock with taking the tree indoors. If the container isn’t all that pretty, drop it into a larger glazed ceramic pot or metal bucket for the holidays. If you pick one without a drainage hole, the container can also catch excess water.

Limit time indoors

Living trees are happiest with cool temperatures and bright, outdoor light. Bring your tree indoors for no longer than 10 day stretches and choose a sunny spot away from any heat vents. You can also place your tree outside your doorstep for a few days to give it a break from the heat and limited light indoors.

Pictured (from left): Korean fir, Dwarf Alberta spruce, Dwarf blue subalpine fir | Photographed by Tom Story

Water regularly

Potted trees indoors will dry out more quickly than those in your garden. Water daily and top-dress the soil with some mulch or reindeer moss (pictured above) to help prevent water loss through evaporation. One easy way to water your tree is to empty several trays of ice cubes on top of the soil. The ice will melt slowly so that roots can absorb the water before it puddles.

Take it outside

After the holidays, take your tree outside and place it, once again, in a sheltered location. Water it well, soaking the root ball. After a week, move the tree in it’s container to a sunny spot in your garden where it can live for the rest of the year. When you see signs of new growth in spring, give the tree a dose of fertilizer according to the box instructions.

When to repot

If you’ve had your tree for multiple seasons or you start seeing signs of distress (yellowing needles, stunted growth, or sparsely-needled branches), it’s time to repot your tree in a larger container. For particularly root bound trees, you may want to cut 2-3 inches off the bottom and sides of the rootball using pruning shears or an old knife. When repotting, mix in a handful of controlled-release organic fertilizer with your potting soil to promote new growth.

Pictured: Colorado blue spruce (Picea pugnens ‘Baby Blue’) | Photographed by Tom Story

How long is too long

If you’ve had your living tree for years, at some point the tree will grow too large to be easily moved indoors. Trees over 6 feet tall with heavy root balls are close to the cut-off line. At this point, plant your tree out in the garden where it will get plenty of sun. If you don’t have room for a conifer, check with your city for tree donation programs to public parks.

For more tips about choosing and caring for a living Christmas tree, check out the full article in our December issue of Sunset.


Plastic Christmas trees may be easier to set up, but there’s no substitute for the beauty and fragrance of the real thing, whether you cut a tree yourself or choose one from a tree farm.

Real Christmas trees are a magical part of the holiday season, but they do take a little extra effort to maintain. The main challenge is keeping your tree hydrated and preventing the needles and branches from drying out too quickly.

Christmas Tree Care

In fact, “when a Christmas tree is cut, more than half its weight is water,” according to the National Christmas Tree Association, so ensuring a constant water uptake via the trunk is crucial.

Related: 25 Very Pretty Christmas Cookie Recipes

The NCTA recommends that you keep Christmas trees constantly submerged in water in a reservoir-type stand. Trees should also be kept away from major heat sources like fireplaces, heat vents and direct sunlight to slow the drying process. And, take care to use low-heat miniature lights that won’t dry out the branches.

Related: All the Christmas movies you want to watch!

Here are five more of the NCTA’s top Christmas tree care tips, from choosing the right tree to recycling it correctly after the holidays.

1. Make sure you have a fresh tree to begin with

To be sure you’re buying a fresh tree, the National Christmas Tree Association recommends doing a ‘branch/needle test’: “Run a branch through your enclosed hand—the needles should not come off easily,” the NCTA says. “Bend the outer branches—they should be pliable. If they are brittle and snap easily, the tree is too dry.”

Related: Find Out Who’s Performing at Christmas in Rockefeller Center!

2. Use the right amount of water

A traditional reservoir stand is the way to go, says the NCTA. Be sure to place the tree in water as soon as you get it home, and as a rule of thumb, you should use 1 quart of water per inch of stem diameter. Check the water levels daily to ensure the trunk is still fully submerged. The temperature of the water is not important.

3. Avoid whittling the trunk

Be sure to use a stand that fits your tree so you don’t have to whittle down the trunk to fit. “The outer layers of wood are the most efficient in taking up water and should not be removed,” the NCTA says. Also, there’s no need to drill a hole in the base of the trunk; contrary to popular belief, this does not improve the tree’s ability to absorb water.

4. Keep your tree away from heat sources

The NCTA recommends using low-heat lights, such as miniature lights, to reduce drying. Keeping the room temperature low and keeping your tree away from heating vents and direct sunlight will also reduce the amount of water the tree must use each day, slowing the drying process. And, of course, keep your tree away from fireplaces and heaters to reduce the risk of fire.

5. Dispose of your tree the right way

When it’s time to take down your tree, don’t throw it in a dumpster or leave it on the curb. Christmas trees can be recycled for mulch, and many communities have recycling programs that accept trees after the holidays at no charge. Some areas also offer mulching programs that allow you to use the mulch from your tree in your garden. The NCTA provides some other creative recycling options, such as placing your tree in the yard for use as a bird sanctuary. “Fresh orange slices or strung popcorn will attract the birds and they can sit in the branches for shelter,” says the Association. “Eventually (within a year) the branches will become brittle and you can break the tree apart by hand or chip it in a chipper.”

Check out the National Christmas Tree Association website for more tips for choosing and caring for your tree this season!

Looking for the best gift ideas? Check out all our gift guides here!

Balsam Fir (Abies balsamea)


Sorry, we can not ship to Canada.

Latin Name: Abies balsamea

Zones: 3-7

Common Names: balsam, Canada balsam, eastern fir, balm of Gilead, blister fir

Mature Height/Spread: Balsam Fir can grow 45-75 ft. high and have a 20-25 ft. spread in ideal conditions. Has a slow growth rate of less than 12″ per year.

Soil/Climate: Balsam fir prefer cold climates, well-drained, acidic soil, dislikes heat and dry air, not well-adapted to cultivation. Prefers full sun and partial shade.

Notes: Needles are variable, up to 1″ long buds are resinous. Balsam Fir are widely used as Christmas trees. The resin was used to make Canada Balsam: a liquid used to treat the common cold as well as glue eye glasses. Balsam Fir oil is also approved by the EPA as a non-toxic rodent repellent.

Wildlife: Provides food for moose, American red squirrels, crossbills and chickadees, as well as shelter for moose, snowshoe hares, white-tailed deer, ruffed grouse and other small mammals. Beavers sometimes use the Balsam Fir wood for dam building.

Cold Stream Farm supplies Balsam Fir trees which are grown as bare root seedlings and transplants and sold both wholesale and retail with no minimum order.

Additional information on Abies balsamea can be found on the link: USDA / NRCS plants database.

About the Farm

Weir Tree Farms has been family owned and operated for three generations. The farm’s first seedlings were planted by Harlie Weir in 1945 on a lot in Stewartstown, New Hampshire. The Balsam Fir needles of the original seedlings possessed an extremely desirable blue color. Some of the trees in the original plantation are still used for seed today.

In 1958, Harlie acquired the current farm in East Colebrook, New Hampshire and planted several thousand Balsam Firs. In 1965, Harlie’s oldest son, William, and his wife, Pauline, purchased the tree farm. Over the next forty years, William and Pauline continued to operate and expand the farm. In 2004, William and Pauline’s youngest son, Jay, and his wife, Christie, purchased the family business and continue to operate the tree farm today. In May 2018, Jay and Christie purchased a 475 acre parcel of land that abuts the current farm bringing the total acreage of the farm to 1000 with just under 400 acres in Christmas Tree production.

It should be noted that Harlie was a charter member and the second president of the NH-VT Christmas Tree Association. William has served as director, vice president, and president of the association. Jay has also served as president and on the Board of Directors.

Today, Weir Tree Farms has just under 400 acres in Christmas tree production harvesting 15,000 to 20,000 trees annually. We are able to grow all of our own planting stock from seed and produce approximately 100,000 excess transplants for sale to other growers and individuals. Weir Trees are sold wholesale, mail order and choose and cut. Also, in 2011 we purchased a tree spade and are now able to offer live, dug trees up to 8 feet tall.

Jackson and Cooper Weir, Jay and Christie’s sons

Christmas Tree Transplant Sale
$1.50 Each!!!

  • Transplants are Uncle Steve’s Balsam/Fraser Fir Hybrids
  • 2-2 Plugs*** or Bare Root Transplants
  • Minimum order: 250
  • Pick up only
  • Payment in full in advance
  • Last order date: April 1st

***A “2-2 plug” starts as a seedling and grows in a nursery for two years. It is then placed into a 4″ diameter potting container for 2 more years.

-Contact Uncle Steve for more info

Uncle Steve recommends 2-2 Plugs over Bare Root Transplants for several reasons:

  • The transplant roots are all contained in the 4″ diameter plug
  • Plugs need a much smaller hole than bare root transplants
  • Using a 4″ auger you can quickly dig a shallow hole to perfectly fit the 4″ diameter plugs for fast effective planting
  • Since the roots in the plug are already covered in soil there is much less chance of them drying out

Bare Root Transplants:

  • Bare root transplants sometimes require a hole 2-3′ deep to accommodate the loose roots
  • A larger diameter hole is required to assure the roots get covered with soil
  • To protect them from drying out, covering the bare roots in such a hole with soil is necessary and can be time consuming

-Contact Uncle Steve for more info!

Not actual transplants
(Anne Geddes photo)

Return to Uncle Steve’s Home Page

Balsam Fir Planting – Learn About Balsam Fir Tree Care

Given ideal conditions, balsam fir trees (Abies balsamea) grow about a foot a year. They quickly become the evenly shaped, dense, conical trees that we recognize as Christmas trees, but they don’t stop there. Balsam firs become towering, architectural trees with a bold presence in the landscape. They can reach heights of 90 to 100 feet at maturity. Some of the features that make them desirable landscape trees are their spicy fragrance, neat shape and bluish-green color.

Balsam Fir Tree Info

Balsam firs look very similar to spruce trees. You can tell the difference by the way the cones grow. Balsam fir cones stand straight up on the branches, while spruce cones dangle. You will never see a balsam fir cone on the ground because the cones break up into small pieces when they ripen.

Balsam trees are commercially significant because of their use as Christmas trees. Historically, the trees were important for their resin, which was used to treat lung ailments. The resin was also used to seal birchbark canoe seams and as a varnish for watercolor paintings.

When to Plant Balsam Fir

Plant balled, burlaped or bare root balsam fir trees in fall or spring. Fall is usually the best time to plant. Rehydrate bare root trees by soaking them in a bucket of water for several hours before planting.

You can plant container-grown plants any time of year. Avoid planting during periods of drought or extreme heat. If you are planting a tree that was used indoors as a Christmas tree, plant it outdoors as soon as possible.

Choose a sunny or lightly shaded location for your tree. An area with light morning shade will help prevent frost damage. Water deeply and mulch heavily immediately after planting using 2 to 3 inches of organic mulch.

Balsam Fir Tree Care

While the tree is young, water it weekly in the absence of rain. Young trees need a lot water, so use a soaker hose to saturate the soil around the tree, or bury a water hose under the mulch and let it run as slowly as possible for about an hour. If the water starts to run off before the hour is up, turn it off for a while and let the soil absorb the water, then turn the hose on later to finish out the hour. Older trees that have roots sunk deep into the soil only need watering during prolonged dry spells.

Fertilize balsam fir trees in spring. Use a complete, balanced fertilizer and follow the manufacturer’s instructions. Over fertilizing can seriously damage the tree, so be careful not to overdo it. Once a tree matures, it doesn’t need fertilizer every year.

Species: Canaan Fir – Abies balsamea var phanerolepis

By Ricky Bates
Department of Horticulture, Penn State

Canaan fir, also called West Virginia balsam fir, is a little known tree that is native to isolated pockets in the mountains of West Virginia and Virginia. Some have suggested that, during the last glacial period, a continuous fir population extended from North Carolina north along the Appalachian mountain range into Canada. As the climate changed, fir in the Appalachian mountains were replaced by other species at lower elevations, isolating balsam fir to the north, Fraser fir at higher elevations in Virginia and North Carolina, and Canaan fir at higher elevations in parts of Virginia and West Virginia. The tree takes its common name from the Canaan Valley northeast of Elkins, West Virginia.

As you might expect, Canaan fir has many similarities to both Fraser and balsam fir in growth and appearance. Unfortunately, this similarity has led to a great deal of taxonomic confusion. It has been suggested that only one species of balsam fir with three varieties be recognized in the Eastern United States: Abies balsamea var. balsamea (balsam fir), Abies balsamea var. phanerolepis (Canaan fir), and Abies balsamea var. fraseri (Fraser fir). In the past, some have also promoted the classification of Canaan fir as Abies intermedia, representing a cross between Fraser and balsam fir. Neither of these systems found widespread approval and presently Canaan fir is considered a special ecotype, or variety of balsam fir, whereas Fraser fir (A. fraseri) is considered a separate species.

Canaan fir is an attractive medium-sized tree generally reaching 40-55 feet in height and 20-25 feet in width. It exhibits a relatively dense, pyramidal crown with a slender spire-like tip that often imparts a formal appearance. Foliage color is lustrous dark green to bluish green with silvery stomatic bands on the underside of the needles. Needles generally are two-ranked, ¾ -1 ½ inch long and are spreading and uncrowded on the branch. On some trees, the needles tend to be shorter and curved upwards so as to cover the upper sides of the twigs. Significant variation can occur in both tree habit and needle type.

An important asset of Canaan fir is its ability to grow in areas not well suited to other native firs. It will tolerate wetter soils than Fraser fir and is more resistant to spring frost injury than either Fraser or balsam fir because of its tendency to break bud late. While Canaan fir will tolerate soils with less than perfect drainage, it performs best in deep, well-drained loam with ample moisture. Some sources indicate that Canaan fir grows well in wet, poorly drained soils. In my experience, the tree languishes under such conditions. Canaan fir thrives in cooler climates and can be successfully planted balled-and-burlapped or from a container in spring or fall. Propagation is almost exclusively by seed derived from seed orchards or native stands of trees in West Virginia. The primary pests of Canaan fir include balsam twig aphid, spider mites, balsam wooly adelgid, and deer.

In recent years, considerable interest has developed in using Canaan fir as a Christmas tree species. Unfortunately, it’s use as a landscape ornamental has gone largely unnoticed. This handsome conifer deserves wider use in the landscape but may be difficult to find at your favorite garden center. If you need a landscape-sized specimen, you might first check with your local Christmas tree farm.

Name: Abies balsamea var phanerolepis

Common name: Canaan fir

Hardiness: Zone 4

Mature height: 40 feet to 55 feet

Mature spread: 20 feet to 25 feet

Classification: Evergreen tree

Landscape use: Screening, group planting, formal appearance makes it a suitable accent plant

Ornamental characteristics: Uniform, short ascending branches form a tightly pyramidal to conical formal habit; ¾ to 1 ½ -inch long, flat needles are lustrous dark green above with white stomatic bands below; dark violet cones when young, turn gray-brown at maturity

Ricky M. Bates
Assistant Professor of Ornamental Horticulture
Department of Horticulture
Penn State University
University Park, PA 16802
(814) 863-2198

Abies balsamea var. phanerolepis (West Virginia Canaan Fir) – Qt Super Plugs

Canaan Fir is a relative newcomer in the landscape. Once thought to be a hybrid between Balsam and Fraser firs, there seems to be characteristics of both trees in Canaan Fir. Most authorities now regard Canaan Fir as simply a variety of Balsam Fir. (Actually, “Bracted Balsam Fir”, Abies balsamea var. phanerolepis ranges from Nova Scotia, Canada, to West Virginia. “Canaan Fir” is simply an ecotype of this fir named after the Canaan Valley in West Virginia). Used for years by Christmas Tree Growers, this tree deserves far more use than it gets. Found at high elevations in the Central Appalachians of West Virginia; this strain, Canaan (kuh-NAIN) Fir, comes from seed sources in the Canaan Valley. Canaan fir is known for its adaptability; there seems to be more heat resistance and vigor than in either Balsam or Fraser fir. It is also found on much more boggy soils, and will grow on heavier soils than Fraser Fir. As usual, though, growth is best on moist, well-drained soils.


Canaan fir is a useful tree; It is used heavily in the Christmas Tree Industry, and can be used much in the same way as Balsam fir for stuffing pillows, extracting resin, etc. This tree has also become popular as a windbreak and landscape tree here in the Midwest, tolerating the more clay-based soils and the summer warmth. As it comes from a climate that is cool and wet, it is not prone to the needle-cast diseases that make Concolor fir (Abies concolor) unsuited for mass plantings around here.

Growing Information

As mentioned previously, Canaan Fir is a relatively easy-to-grow tree. We have successfully established gallon-size Rootmaker liners here at the nursery, and they grow extremely well. They have been unfazed by heat, drought, and cold! Canaan fir looks great when planted in clumps or groves, as close spacing keeps the plants straight and narrow. Space about 8 to 10 feet apart for mass plantings.

Canaan Fir also is a great specimen tree – the steely, dark-green needles keep their color all winter, and tend to stay on the tree for years, creating a dense screen. The balsam smell is great when the sun evaporates the dew off of them – Canaan fir is worth planting for the aroma alone! Plant these trees in moist, well-drained soil (Try to avoid heavy, sticky clay), and water once a week the first year. Canaan fir is fairly drought tolerant once established, but grows best with good moisture. In severe droughts, even larger trees may need water; we lost a few saplings during a drought, but these were planted on a hot, dry hilltop.

Our Canaan Firs are in Quart SuperPlug containers, and are 18-24″ tall. Because of the air-root pruned system, these trees will establish and grow quickly after planting.

Balsam fir is a coniferous tree native to northern Wisconsin and the rest of the Lake States. It has the largest distribution of the North American firs, extending across southeastern Canada, south through most of the Midwest, and east through New England. It grows from sea level all the way up to 50 feet below the summit of Mount Washington, the tallest mountain in its range (that’s from sea level to 6,238 feet elevation!). Balsam fir has a dense, conical crown with a slender tip (think of the shape of the “perfect” Christmas tree). The needles are flat and are arranged so that they are in one plane, meaning they mostly point out from opposite sides of the branch. If you look at a balsam fir twig closely, you will see that the needles are attached to all sides of the twig, but as the needles grow, they twist so that most of them are parallel to the ground. Unlike most conifers, the cones of balsam fir point upwards from the branch instead of hanging down. When the cone is mature, the cone scales fall off, so it is rare to find an in-tact mature cone on a tree. Balsam fir is truly a northern species and is an important part of northern mixed forests or boreal forests.

As I’ve already told you, Abies balsamea is an incredibly important wildlife tree. Deer, moose, rabbits, and many species of birds use balsam fir stands for thermal cover because the dense foliage cuts down on wind and insulates the area. Check out the photo to the right and spot a rabbit taking cover under the balsam fir! Additionally, the thick foliage also intercepts the snow before it hits the ground, making it easier for animals to move around or run from predators that might sneak up on them. Balsam fir is unpalatable to deer who only use it as winter cover, however, many species of wildlife do rely on balsam fir for food. Moose rely on balsam fir as their chief food source during the winter. Mice and voles eat the seeds and the bark. Red squirrels feed on the seeds, bark, wood, and flower buds. Black bear strip the bark and eat the green wood underneath. Balsam fir stands that have been infested with a pest called the spruce budworm (a misnomer seeing as this insect prefers fir trees over spruce trees) are a very important source of food for birds of all kinds who come to feed on the spruce budworms.

One other super-cool feature of the balsam fir: its resin blisters! All balsam firs, except very young or very old trees, have warty-looking bumps covering their trunks. These lumps are actually little packets, or blisters, of resin (also called pitch) just under the first layer of bark. Pitch is not to be confused with sap. Sap is basically water with sugars, vitamins, hormones, and enzymes that serve as nutrients for the tree; it is found in the xylem and phloem cells of the tree. Resin, or pitch, is very different. It is a highly viscous substance used by the tree to plug up wounds or defend itself from insect or pathogen infestations. To simplify, sap is the substance we make maple syrup out of in the springtime; resin is the substance that eventually hardens, fossilizes, and turns into amber. With resin blisters all over the trunk of the tree, any insect, bird, or pathogen that comes along and takes a bite out of our balsam fir will be rewarded with a big sticky glob of resin in the face.

Balsam fir is not often used as a street or landscape tree because it demands a well-drained soil with plenty of moisture, which is a hard environment to create along a street or in an urban yard. It is, however, very widely used as a Christmas tree. For four hundred years, balsam fir has been either the most popular or second-most popular Christmas tree in North America. Features of the tree that make it an ideal Christmas tree are that it has a really nice deep green color, it has a great conical shape, after the tree is cut the needles stay on the tree for a long time, and it has a wonderful smell. A 6 or 7 foot tree is usually between 10 and 12 years old. Walk down your street and take a look at the trees that you or your neighbors have put out on the street for collection – I’m willing to bet that if you walk past 10 discarded Christmas trees, at least one of them is a balsam fir!

Growing Balsam fir from seed

Balsam fir in nursery production, Source stated in works cited, Photo 1


Balsam Fir, Abies balsamea, is from the family Pinaceae and can be found in a variety of places including Canada and the northeastern United States. This is a small to medium evergreen species that can grow to be up to 80 feet tall. Also, this species is monoecious, meaning the male and female flowers (cones) are located on the same branch. There are a few common uses for the balsam fir including screening, lumber production, pulpwood, Christmas wreaths, and Christmas trees. When thinking about establishing this tree in the landscape, or growing it in a nursery, there are many factors to be considered. This species will grow in a wide range of soils including silt and stony loams, however it prefers a moist soil in the acidic range with a pH of 4.0 to 6.0. The balsam fir is capable of tolerating heavy shade when young, but the growth may be slower in densely shaded areas. The USDA hardiness zones for this species are zones 3-6, and cool temperatures along with moist conditions are favorable for growth and development. Pests and diseases can also cause problems with this species and need to be taken into consideration. The spruce budworm can be a major pest on this fir, along with other common issues such as root rots, needlecasts, and wind damage, and care should be taken to avoid these issues. Different types of propagation can be used for the reproduction of this species, however seed propagation and grafting are the most commonly used. If given the right environment and care, the balsam fir should reach Christmas tree height in 7-10 years.

Propagation Methods

As previously stated, the balsam fir may be propagated a few different ways including through cuttings, grafting, and seed. It should also be noted that natural layering is common with wild populations of balsam fir. Fir species are considered difficult to root, although some such as A. fraseri, the Frasier fir, will root in high percentages if treated with the plant hormone, auxin. However, cuttings are generally not a suitable means of propagation for the balsam fir. Grafting procedures such as the side veneer graft are sometimes used with fir species such as the Japanese Momi fir, A.firma. This species is tolerant of southern conditions, and desirable cultivars are commonly grafted onto it because if its tolerance for heavy and wet clay soils. The balsam fir does not have a high tolerance for those conditions and is not commonly used as a rootstock for grafting new cultivars. Seed propagation is the primary means of producing new balsam fir trees. Seed-fall begins in August and continues through November, with good seed crops usually occurring every other year. The seeds are located within the cones which can be removed from the tree or taken from the surrounding area. They can then be stored for later use or prepared for germination through stratification since the embryo is often dormant.

Fir in nursery production, Source stated in works cited; Photo 2

Step-By-Step Seed Propagation


  1. Sand, peat moss, or other moisture holding, well aerated soil media
  2. Plastic sandwich bag
  3. Refrigerator or cold frame
  4. Potting container
  5. Fungicide, if desired


Ripe Balsam fir cones can be removed from the tree for drying out. Source in works cited, Photo 3.

Step 1: Collect ripe (brown-purple) cones during seed-fall and dry them out. Drying out can be done by placing in direct sunlight on a hard surface, or by placing in the oven at temperatures no higher than 120°F.

Step 2: Remove the seed from the cones and place in a designated area for later use. After the seed is collected, it can be stored for up to one year since viability may be lost after this point.

*NOTE: If storing, the seeds should be mixed with moist media and placed in a labeled container in cold temperatures ranging from 36°-38°F.

Cones may be placed in an oven for drying at temperature no higher than 120F. Source stated in works cited, Photo 4.

Step 3: Stratification: The embryo is usually dormant, so a cold, moist treatment is usually necessary for germination. Seeds should be placed in moist media such as sand or peat moss, placed in a container such as a plastic bag, and put into a cooling unit at 40°F for one to three months.

*NOTE: If seed is collected and ready for planting in the fall, outdoor stratification can be done by sowing the seed in a cold frame. The cool, moist conditions during autumn will allow for stratification similar to the refrigerated process in step 2.

Step 4: After stratification, seeds can be germinated in a greenhouse or outdoors in the spring after the last frost. Sandy loam media is best for this step. The seeds should be placed 4-6 inches apart at a depth of about four times the size of the seed. Optimum temperatures for germination are 68°-86°F.

*NOTE: Damping-off disease can be a problem for Abies seedlings, and proper fungicides may need to be used to prevent infection. Also, media should be moist, but not soggy during germination.

Step 5: After germination, the seeds should be placed under shaded conditions and weeds should be removed.

*NOTE: Be sure to have the seedlings out of direct sunlight as heat damage can easily occur.

Step 6: When the seedlings reach about 15 cm in height, they can be removed and placed into individual pots. They should remain in individual pots for the first winter season.

Seedlings can be planted in individual pots for the first winter season. Source stated in works cited, Photo 5.

Step 7: In late spring of the next year, the seedlings can be placed outside in their permanent areas. This location should be in full sunlight to promote optimum growth.

-If proper care is taken, the plant should grow to Christmas tree height in 7-10 years, and its full height in 15-30 years.


The balsam fir is a top choice for a Christmas tree display in the home. It is grown in many nurseries for this purpose, and is produced for other uses such as lumber and pulpwood for paper making. Seed propagation is the most common way of reproducing this and other species of conifers, as this is usually the most practical way of propagation. Also, many conifers are difficult to root through hardwood cuttings, and this method is not commonly used with the balsam fir. It takes many years to establish a Christmas tree nursery, but if proper care was taken to ensure healthy tree production, it can lead to multiple gains in the future.

For more information on this topic, please refer to the works cited section below.

Works Cited

2. Frank, R.M. “Balsam Fir.” Web. 15 Nov 2104.

4. S, Samantha. “Balsam Fir.” Blue Planes Biomes. 2002. Web. 15 Nov 2014.

5. “Abies balsamea-(L.)Mill.” Plants for a Future. Web. 15 Nov 2014.

7. “Propagating Balsam Fir.” Web. 15 Nov 2014.

Photos cited

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