Christmas isn't complete without a real Christmas tree – but which type to go for? Many of us are looking for more greener, more eco-friendly Christmas tree ideas, and a pot-grown Christmas tree (or a rented tree) is a sustainable option.


A pot-grown tree has been nurtured for its whole life in its pot, and will last for many years – once the festive season is over, you can enjoy your tree outside all year before bringing it indoors every Christmas. (Pot grown trees should not be confused with "potted" trees, which have been cut and then put in a pot, and will not last beyond the festive season.)

You don't need to settle for the usual Norway spruce or Nordmann Fir. We asked Helen Tate, who runs specialist conifer nursery Lime Cross Nursery with her sister Vicky, to recommend unusual and attractive evergreen conifers that aren't just for Christmas but will look good in your garden all year round. Her six top suggestions are below.

For other ideas on decorating with plants, check out our guide to the very best indoor Christmas plants to buy this year.

6 alternatives to a Christmas tree

Spanish fir
Abies pinsapo 'Horstmann'

Helen says: "This adorable and compact Spanish Fir has the quirkiest shaped branches. It will happily live in a pot, as it is slow growing. It will need repotting in three to five years into a bigger pot. Give it a regular foliar feed."

Ultimate height: 60cm.
Conditions: Any fertile, well-drained soil; full sun.
Habit: Spreading and rounded, becoming pyramidal with age.
Foliage: Vivid blue needles are arranged radially around the branchlets.
Perfect for: Growing in a pot or a rock garden.

Japanese cedar
Cryptomeria japonica
'Elegans Compacta'

Cryptomeria japonica ‘Elegans Compacta’

Helen says: "This is a really affordable option. The gorgeous colours will look stunning with fairy lights."

Ultimate height: 2.5m.
Conditions: Any fertile, well-drained soil; full sun. Avoid exposed sites.
Habit: Bushy.
Foliage: The springy, long and soft foliage turns purple in summer.
Perfect for: Growing anywhere in the garden or in a pot.

Alberta spruce
Picea glauca
var. albertiana 'Conica'

Helen says: "Picea glauca var. albertiana 'Conica' grows into a perfect cone, making it an excellent tabletop Christmas tree alternative."

Ultimate height: 2.5m.
Conditions: Any fertile, moist well-drained soil; full sun.
Habit: A perfect cone.
Foliage: Light green young needles, later turning blue-green.
Perfect for: Growing in a pot or mixing with heathers in the garden.

Himalayan white pine
Pinus wallichiana

Helen says: "Pinus wallichiana ‘Vicky’ was discovered here at Lime Cross Nursery by founder Jonathan Tate and named after his daughter (and my sister) Vicky. The whorls of needles are soft and shaggy and are said to have reminded Jonathan of his baby daughter's striking ginger mohawk."

Ultimate height: 8m.
Conditions: Any fertile, well-drained soil; full sun.
Habit: Witch's broom.
Foliage: Lime-green with sunset-yellow hues. Deciduous.
Perfect for: A garden border or growing in a pot.

Bosnian pine
Pinus heldreichii

Helen says: "Pinus heldreichii 'Schneverdingen' is a dense multi-stemmed evergreen tree with a distinctive and refined form. Its relatively fine texture sets it apart from other landscape plants with less refined foliage."

Ultimate height: 6m.
Conditions: Any fertile, well-drained soil; full sun.
Habit: Pyramid.
Foliage: Dark green with a fine texture.
Perfect for: Around the garden or growing in a pot.

Willow podocarp
Podocarpus salignus

Helen says: "We think that Podocarpus make a really cool alternative Christmas tree. Its lush, striking foliage works well with fairy lights."

Ultimate height: 8m.
Conditions: Any fertile, well-drained soil; full sun.
Habit: Spreading and rounded, becoming pyramidal with age.
Foliage: The new, willow-like foliage is lime green, becoming darker green with age.
Perfect for: In a mixed border or pot.


Bringing a tree indoors for Christmas: top tips

  • Bring your tree indoors as late as possible. Try to limit the tree's time indoors to around 10-12 days.
  • Display your tree in a cool room, away from radiators and fires or log burners.
  • Acclimatise the tree before putting it outside again – if possible, put it in a cool greenhouse or porch for a few days.
  • Either plant the tree out in the garden after Christmas, or grow it on in a pot, potting it on into a larger pot as it grows. A soil-based compost, such as John Innes No 2, is ideal.
  • To show off your tree, Helen recommends topping the compost of the pot with English moss (you should find plenty of this on your lawn). "It looks great and helps to retain moisture," says Helen.
  • Helen also recommends wrapping the tree's pot with hessian.

Lime Cross Nursery

At Lime Cross Nursery Helen Tate and her sister Vicky grow and propagate more than 500 varieties of conifer. The nursery is open for visits by appointment or you can visit the online shop.

Helen Tate, Lime Cross Nursery


Veronica Peerless is a trained horticulturalist and garden designer.