The custom of placing evergreen plants, alive or cut, into our homes during a Northwest winter has a long and varied cultural history. Suffice it to say, regardless of religious affiliation, evergreen plants in our homes bring us joy and signify life in the midst of a long, dark season. 

Though cut boughs and trees are plentiful this time of year, living plants can be a nice asset indoors and planted outside later and honored in the landscape. 

Here are some ideas to keep in mind for using living plants indoors this season.

Choosing the right plants

•Have a plan — If you are purchasing a traditional conifer, such as a type of fir or pine, remember that these will grow into very large trees — sometimes 200 feet tall! Know before you purchase how large your tree will grow so there is no future need to top it or cut it down. 

Nursery tags often give you the height and width of a plant at 10 years’ maturity, even though plants continue to grow, so do your homework.

•Know the climate requirements of your plant — Sun, shade, moisture and winter tolerance — what does your plant need to thrive? Do you have that type of environment in your yard? 

•Think outside the box — Consider a dwarf conifer that will transplant nicely into a large container or a rosemary topiary that you can also use to harvest fresh sprigs for your winter meals. 

You could even decorate a tropical evergreen like a Ficus benjamina that you can keep inside all year long. 

Caring for your evergreen

•A living evergreen should not be in the house longer than 10 days and should be kept in a cool spot, away from heat vents. Plan accordingly. 

•Watering can be as simple as dropping ice cubes onto the surface of the soil to melt and saturate the root ball slowly. Do not let it dry out!

•If you cannot plant right away, place your plant in a protected area in your yard, but make sure that the plant is watered as needed.

•Some indoor plants are native to tropical regions and, therefore, need to be kept away from drafts. Learn their watering needs.  

Time to plant

Prepare your planting hole when the soil in your garden is not frozen. In our maritime Northwest climate, this is usually not an issue. But in case we hit a cold spell, be prepared.

Plant your plants into a hole twice as wide as but no deeper than the root ball of your plant. Add compost as a top dressing, allowing the plant to grow in your native soil. Compost not only nourishes the soil but also adds insulation to keep soil temperatures more even throughout the winter. 

Consider purchasing a plant from a program that will take your plant back to plant into a park or natural area. Both the Adopt a Stream foundation and Swansons Nursery (9701 15th Ave. N.W.) have Trees for Salmon programs, which will plant your returned evergreens into local parks and natural areas. At Swansons, you can even volunteer at one of the planting sites.

Where to find live evergreens

Try your neighborhood nursery, garden center or grocery store. Call the Garden Hotline (206-633-0224) for a resource list.

Enjoy the peace and beauty of winter by welcoming live plants into your home!

LAURA MATTER is an educator and program coordinator for Seattle Tilth’s Garden Hotline ( To comment on this column, write to