CHRISTMAS preparations are well underway.
Decorating the tree is a big event, particularly when kids are involved.
More and more families are choosing living Christmas trees, which can grow with the family and be a part of the celebration year after year.
For a long-lasting living Christmas tree, it's hard to go past one of our own native species.
The ever-popular Norfolk Pine (Araucaria heterophylla) is a firm favourite, not just in Australia but also in America and Europe, where large numbers are grown for indoor plants.
Not so well-known, but equally suitable, is the beautiful Daintree Pine (Gymnostoma australianum).
A member of the casuarina family, this beautiful small tree is rare and endangered in its native habitat in the forests of far north Queensland.
But don't be alarmed - it's not endangered because it's difficult to grow.
With delicate fine needle-like foliage and a neat conical habit, it will grow 3-6m in about 10 years.
The Daintree pine is perfect for pots, native gardens and formal garden styles.
If the idea of a pine doesn't excite, then there a plenty of other options.
Grafted Eucalypts are very popular, giving a quintessentially Australian look. They usually flower in November/December.
'Summer Red' has magnificent bright red flowers, whereas 'Summer Beauty' is a lovely soft pink.
The blossoms are followed by plump gumnuts.
The grafted Eucalypts are suitable even for small gardens as they rarely exceed 5m in height.
Other popular Christmas trees include shaped or topiaried shrubs such as lilly pillies, dwarf murraya or even rosemary bushes.
A perfectly clipped cone, dotted with tiny red baubles, will look beautifully elegant, especially in a square pot.
On a miniature scale, these make great table decorations too.
Regardless of what tree you choose, there are a few basic guidelines to help you get the best out of it.
Don't overload the tree with heavy decorations or you might damage the branches.
While it's living inside, it won't need a great deal of water.
Keep the potting mix moist and don't let water sit in the saucer all the time.
Terracotta pots and saucers are sometimes porous, so water may seep through and damage floors.
Indoors, you are probably safer with a plastic saucer or a glazed one, maybe sitting up on pot feet to allow air to circulate.
Once Christmas festivities are over, move the tree outside into a shaded position.
Because it has been indoors out of the direct sun for several weeks, it will get sunburnt if you put it straight out into the sun.
Accustom it gradually by moving it into more and more sun over a period of several weeks.
It doesn't need to be in full sun all day - half a day will be sufficient for most species.
If your tree is in a small pot, say anything smaller than 30cm (12inches), then you would be wise to move it into a larger pot after Christmas.
Make sure you use premium potting mix, fertilise it a couple of times during the year, and your Christmas tree will be bigger and better next year.
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