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How Does Indoor & Outdoor Tree Care Differ?

Here in the Pacific Northwest, living with and caring for trees is a way of life. Even if you live in an urban area, you can be out your door and enjoying the shade of a tree in moments. Drive a few miles, and you can be deep within a forest wonderland, hiking or biking to your heart’s content.

And it’s not just here in Oregon and Washington. Trees are celebrated everywhere for the importance they have in our lives.

We celebrate Arbor Day by planting trees in honor of our friends and loved ones. Even the Christmas tree holds a special place in our hearts. Can you imagine celebrating without picking out the perfect tree and decorating it in lights?

How Does Indoor & Outdoor Tree Care DifferSo it’s only natural that we want trees to surround us no matter where we spend our time. Why not move trees indoors to enjoy them equally, any time of the year?

It’s not quite that easy. Yes, to grow a tree anywhere takes basic gardening skills. A tree will always need water, nutrients, and tree pruning to keep it as healthy as possible. But indoor trees have a different environment and require different care.


Let’s start with the most obvious. It’s hard to imagine putting a Douglas Fir tree inside your home. The trunk alone would take up a great deal of space in any room in your house.

In most cases, the size of the plant you bring indoors is controlled by the container you place it in. If a tree only has so much space to expand its root system, it only has so much energy to grow in size. How large the plant will ultimately be is limited by how much space it has to grow.

If you put a tree in a 20-gallon container, the living space will be cut off when it reaches full root potential. Without the ability for the root system to move and grow in its search for water and nutrients, its growth is stunted.

That’s why we change and upgrade containers from time to time in our indoor living space. We’re giving our plants a new home to thrive in.


Temperatures also play a role.

When a tree is outside, it’s at the mercy of the season. It may have to face the bitter cold in the winter and a heat wave in the summer. All of that can take its toll on overall health.

But move a tree indoors and you take away harsh conditions. Instead of a 100-degree variance or more during the year, your tree may only have to endure a 30-degree change during the typical year. On the coldest days, the indoor air may dip down into the 60s. And even without air conditioning, most indoor environments rarely move into the 90s. That means your tree enjoys the same climate year round.

Environmental Conditions

It’s not just temperature that controls the life of a tree.

Trees grow from all that happens around them. Outdoor trees receive photosynthetic radiation from being under the rays of the sun. They use light to gain the valuable nutrients they need to grow. And while you can invest in indoor lighting equipment that resembles that process, it’s never the same.

Instead, an indoor tree lives and grows with artificial light. Even the sun’s rays that stream through your windows are shifted due to the glass in the window.

Indoor trees will also never receive the benefits of being in contact with rain, wind, animals, and every other aspect of living in nature. We limit what an indoor tree receives to how much we’re willing to give it. And that means it receives dramatically less than if it lived in the outdoor world.


One of the biggest problems with growing trees indoors is having it receive the proper nutrient levels.

Outdoors, a tree adjusts to the amount of water it receives. It stores water when moisture is in abundance and uses those nutrients when the heat of the summer is upon us and rain is nowhere in sight.

Indoor trees never fight for the nutrients they receive. Most homeowners adopt a regular watering schedule, whether the plant needs it or not. And if the container is already moist and the tree roots are already wet, it makes the plant susceptible to root rot or fungus.

Outdoors, excess water easily drains away. Indoors, it’s simply not possible.

Indoor plants are also sensitive to the chemicals added to tap water. Rainwater isn’t filtered the way our water supply is that enters our homes. For example, fluoride is added to many city water supply systems to benefit dental health. But what’s good for people isn’t necessarily suitable for plants.

Indoor plants also don’t receive nutrients from the changing soil in the same way as their outdoor counterparts. We attempt to provide them with what they need by introducing fertilizers. Yet our bottled or boxed chemical combinations can never fully simulate what plants receive living in nature. We may over fertilize. We may use the wrong fertilizer. We may use it at the wrong time of the year. Any of which can impact the overall health of the tree.


It’s also important to note that indoor plants also have a dormancy period.

We’re used to trees going through their natural cycle when outdoors. We love the colors as the leaves change and fall from the trees. We understand that a tree without leaves in the winter is a protection system designed to help it withstand the harshest conditions. And when the seasons change again, we’re rewarded with more color as trees flower and spring to life.

Indoor trees go through dormancy too. It may not be as visually noticeable, but they do move through a similar cycle.

You may notice they stop growing during autumn and winter. You may discover leaves turning yellow, drying out, and falling away. This is normal. This is the process a tree takes in order to grow and move to its next stage of life. It’s the way a tree gathers its energy to renew and stay alive.

Think Indoors, Think Differently

Bringing a tree indoors has many benefits. But you can’t bring the Douglas Fir tree in and hope it’ll survive.

There are many varieties of trees that make great plants to bring indoors. Try:

    • Fiddle leaf fig tree
    • Norfolk island pine
    • Yucca
    • Parlor palm
    • Corn plant
    • Ficus

With so many choices, you’ll find yourself selecting several; one for every room in your home.

Yet, no matter which trees you plant indoors or out, the key to success is proper care and maintenance throughout the year.

Whether you have questions about your trees receiving the proper nutrients, or wondering when is the right time for tree pruning services, we’re here to answer all of your questions. Just give us a call.