A potted dwarf Alberta spruce offers a classic Christmas-tree shape to this nostalgic picnic tin, which marks the start of a buffet line. Fill the tin with apples, oranges or other fruits; top with pinecones.
Foot-high yew trees, with root balls nestled in moss, look fresh lined up in a galvanized tray. Anchor with white and purple eggplants for an all-natural centerpiece. Achieve a similar look in a long dough bowl or low planter.
For a do-it-yourself snow globe, place a Goldcrest cypress tree (with soil around the roots) in a glass jar. Add artificial snow. Group large and small versions for a wintry display.
A petite juniper looks dapper in a vintage birdcage. Hang from the ceiling, or feature on a tabletop.
Any out-of-the-ordinary vessel will make tiny evergreens stand out. Containers to try: lanterns, ice skates, watering cans, soup tureens, vintage bread boxes or feed bags.
Trim egg cups with tiny juniper sprigs to create "trees" at place settings. Fill base with spice berries and pinecones.
A pint-size dwarf Alberta spruce gives a candle sconce new holiday style. Remove soil and bind the roots in damp cheesecloth to fit into the candle hole.
Spell out holiday greetings on tree containers that climb the stairs. We made paper letter ornaments for white ironstone pitchers and pots and planted a lacy Goldcrest cypress tree in each.
Greet guests with a tree, instead of a wreath. Sew the sides of a folded dish towel to make a pouch, then add an Eastern white pine sapling in a plastic bag (with damp cheesecloth wrapped around the roots).
Use transferware bowls as pots. We planted baby Norfolk Island pines and covered the soil with acorns and nuts.
Arborvitae seedlings make great gifts. Plant trees in tins; add labels with holiday greetings and tree-care tips.
Turn a vintage mop bucket on wheels into a simple pot to hold a holiday boxwood tree. Place in the entryway for an easy, green greeting.
Some balled or potted decorative trees can have a life after the holidays. Follow these tips, then plant when spring arrives.
Pick hardy varieties. Check local nurseries for evergreen trees suited for Midwest growing Zones. (Note: Our Norfolk Island pine is just a houseplant.)
When used indoors over the holidays, water. "The air inside the house is very dry," says Bert Cregg, professor of horticulture and forestry at Michigan State University. "So plants will dry out quickly." Place plants out of direct sun, and keep roots moist. A general guideline: Water twice a week.
Limit display time. "The longer the trees are in the house, the more they'll begin to lose their hardiness," Cregg says. He advises limiting indoor time to 2-3 weeks. After three weeks, trees will come out of winter hibernation and start to grow like houseplants.
Cool until spring. After the holidays, store trees in an unheated, sheltered space, like a garage with windows or a porch. (Trees require partial sunlight.) "Most of these conifers need chilling in order to grow normally," Cregg says. Water once before storing, then leave them alone. Plant outside when the ground thaws.
(A version of this story appeared in Midwest Living® November/December 2009.)