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From mini Christmas trees to ivy wreaths, here are the best small holiday season foliage picks

Great small-space alternatives to Christmas trees

Lemon cypress tree with red ornament and in a white pot
Scott Webb / Pexels

Sure, the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree is the epitome of holly jolly winter foliage, but large Christmas trees don’t need to be the sole focus during the holidays. There are plenty of different ways to incorporate greenery into your December festivities that don’t involve lugging home a 6-foot-tall commitment that sheds all month long. We’re here to reassure you that a small Christmas tree is still absolutely suitable for channeling the holiday cheer.

If you live in a modest space or don’t want to budget out money for a tree, you can certainly tap into the Christmas spirit with a small tree or potted indoor plant. Below, we’ve rounded up our favorite plants that work as mini Christmas trees for when it’s time to deck the halls!

Lemon cypress
S1001 / Shutterstock

Dwarf lemon cypress

Browse the plant section at any grocery store during the holidays, and you’ll likely encounter a vibrant lemon cypress plant. The lemon cypress can grow up to 16 feet tall outside, but the dwarf variety (Cupressus macrocarpa “Goldcrest Wilma”) doesn’t usually grow taller than 3 feet.

The dwarf variety is the perfect size to keep in an apartment, and it offers a lovely citrusy scent as well. Plus, you can adorn it with ornaments as you would with a real or fake tree. With a lemon cypress tree, your chief concerns are sunlight and water. Its chartreuse needles will look fresh if you water it every week and give it 6 to 8 hours of direct sun a day.

Dwarf alberta spruce
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Dwarf Alberta spruce

Though the dwarf Alberta spruce has the potential to grow up to 12 feet tall and spread 5 feet wide, it’s usually available at nurseries in its 1 to 2 feet tall baby form. As it only grows 2 to 4 inches per year, you don’t have to worry about it taking up too much room in the meantime — and you can always prune it as needed.

If you’re getting a small one for the holidays, you could bring it outside during the growing season next spring, although it’s best to gradually harden it off before giving it a permanent home outdoors. That said, it does best in cold winters and mild summers, thriving in zones 3 through 6.

Crassula tetragona
Peter Turner Photography / Shutterstock

Miniature pine tree succulent

Crassula tetragona might be known as a miniature pine tree, but it’s certainly lower maintenance than a real pine tree. Upon first look, this succulent might not scream Christmas vibes. Still, its fleshy leaves do resemble pine needles while being much sturdier, and its stem becomes woodier with time, much like a Christmas tree trunk. And of course, you could adorn it with tinsel or holiday ornaments for a festive feel. It can grow up the 4 feet tall, but it usually comes in modest 4- to 6-inch pots at nurseries.

As with many succulents, this plant needs 4 to 6 hours of bright light a day — full sun is ideal, but a spot by a southern or western window could work, too. Use well-draining soil and err on the side of underwatering, especially if you bring the plant into your collection during the winter. The soil should dry out before you reach for your watering can.

What’s great about this succulent is that it propagates with ease. All you have to do is take a stem cutting, remove a few lower leaves, allow the wound to callus, and root the piece in soil.

Ivy wreath
Michiko Design / Shutterstock

English ivy

Ivy makes for wonderful, long-lasting wreath foliage. You can use a wreath form as a trellis for the trailing vines and decorate your ivy stems with ornaments and bows for a merry look. Ivy requires a moderate amount of care, but it doesn’t particularly need to be babied.

Cool winter weather is ideal for the ivy plant, as it prefers a temperature range between 50 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit. You want to give your ivy medium light and water it when the top inch of your soil feels dry to the touch. It’s better to underwater it than overwater it, but dried-out soil can definitely leave your plant vulnerable to spider mite pests. If you have a heater on in your home, counterbalance it with a pebble tray or humidifier to give your ivy sufficient humidity.

Frosty fern
Amelia Martin / Shutterstock

Frosty fern

Although called a frosty fern or a spike moss, Selaginella kraussiana isn’t actually a true fern or moss. Measuring about 6 to 12 inches tall, it features green leaves with festive silvery tips. The perfect temperature range for it is between 60 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit indoors, where it does best with bright indirect light.

This plant likes its soil to be consistently moist, so water it when the surface of the soil feels dry. It prefers a humidity of 50% or above, which means you should keep it away from drying heaters and use a pebble tray to maintain the moisture in its surrounding air.

Fresh sprigs of rosemary
Luca Volpe / Unsplash

Rosemary

When you properly prune and trim a rosemary plant, it can definitely give you that quintessential Christmas tree vibe, as its leaves closely resemble pine needles. What’s great about rosemary is that it also features a beautiful fragrance and can be used in your savory holiday recipes.

When you add a rosemary herb plant into your kitchen garden, you won’t have to worry too much about upkeep. If you can, keep it by a south-facing window so that it can receive as much light as possible. Watering won’t be too much of a problem — rosemary is a drought-tolerant herb, which means you don’t have to worry about watering it until the first few inches of its soil feels dry to the touch. Rosemary can handle dry air as well, so your home humidity should be sufficient. And if your space is warm enough for you, it should be warm enough for your rosemary plant.

Investing in a Christmas tree isn’t a must during the holidays. It’s not the easiest option for many living spaces, personal budgets, and cleaning schedules, and it’s certainly not the best option for the environment. If you simply don’t want a large tree, take a look at mini Christmas trees and other small, festive houseplants. With proper care, these foliage plants can give your home winter vibes while also lasting years down the line.

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