Unexpected Christmas Tree Alternatives Perfect for Small Spaces

Unexpected Christmas Tree Alternatives Perfect for Small Spaces

Photos by Monrovia; by Doreen Wynja
Two potted Christmas trees, a Little Ragu Sweet Bay and a Thunderhead Japanese Black Pine, both next to a fireplace.

Photos by Monrovia; by Doreen Wynja

Whether you can't find a traditional fir or pine Christmas tree this year or don't have the space for one. We want to help you change things up this holiday season with something a little unexpected. We're sharing ideas for alternative Christmas trees below. Where you'll find over 35 unique plant ideas ranging from evergreen shrubs to conifers, and even houseplants.

Start a new holiday tradition by planting one of these gorgeous evergreen options in a nice container. Display it as a holiday specimen year after year. Or combine it with other perennials to create a holiday container that lasts. If you choose a plant that is cold-hardy enough for your zone. You can move it to your front entry after the holidays. Then plant it in the spring (sizes to expect at maturity are listed so you can plan accordingly). Plus, all of these would make an exceptional, lasting holiday gift that can last for decades. Just wrap a string of lights around it. Or, tie a large ribbon around the container to create a festive gift.

Share your fun, funky, and unique "Christmas trees" with us this season on social media by tagging us @MonroviaPlants. We can't wait to see what you decide on!

Our Favorite Evergreen Shrubs to Use as Small Holiday Trees

Evergreen shrubs make for great holiday decor, especially when they have aromatic leaves, a pyramidal form, or dramatic foliage. Using a shrub instead of a coniferous tree is not only a great conversation starter. But, also the perfect way to plan for the future. Use these as container specimens or plant in the garden for continued enjoyment.

Pictured: Little Ragu® Sweet Bay is a compact, aromatic shrub or small tree that pulls double duty for the holidays. Use the leaves to flavor soups and sauces. Use the plant as a miniature Christmas tree in its pyramidal topiary form. Thrives in containers, making it a great perennial holiday tree option. Up to 6' tall and wide. (Zones 8-11)


Petite Pillar™
Dwarf Boxwood

The perfect table-top Christmas tree. This exceptional dwarf boxwood has a natural conical form and lustrous evergreen foliage. This is easily clipped into formal topiary shapes like the pyramidal tree form. Up to 5' tall and 3' wide in natural form Zones 4-9. 

Larger varieties like Green Mountain are also great options for evergreen holiday tree alternatives.


The dramatic, glossy foliage and compact, tightly branched habit of this colorful evergreen option. This makes a splash as a unique non-pyramidal choice for bringing the outdoors in over the holidays. Up to 4' tall and wide. Zones 8-10.

For colder zones, take a look at FloralBerry® St. John's Wort— the berries act as natural ornaments!

Emerald Colonnade®

A male evergreen holly with a naturally pyramidal form and glossy foliage that is tolerant of shearing. This makes it perfect for topiary shapes, like the pyramidal tree form that looks like a perfect miniature Christmas tree. Up to 12' tall and 8' wide in natural form. Zones 7-9.

Keep an eye out for the new, exclusive Ruby Colonnade® Holly, which has glossy foliage that emerges deep red. 

Green Tower Boxwood

A tall, narrow boxwood that maintains its green color through the winter. The tall, pyramidal growth makes it a great option as a Christmas tree in its natural form. It also makes for a beautiful topiary. Up to 9' tall and 2' wide. Zones 5-9. 

Hicks Yew is an upright, narrow, and tall cold-hardy alternative with the added bonus of festive red berries. (Beware, they are poisonous).

Mountain Pepper

A refined evergreen shrub with aromatic, dark-green leaves that adds spicy, peppery flavor to foods. The young red stems offer a beautiful contrast to the green leaves, naturally displaying the perfect Christmas color palette. Up to 12' tall and 8' wide. Zones 7-9.

Tuscan Blue Rosemary is another aromatic evergreen option, plus it can be pruned into the classic Christmas tree shape.

Gold Coast® English Holly

A small, bright holly with toothy, dark green leaves heavily edged in bright golden yellow. This is a male, berry-less form that acts as a pollenizer for other female English holly varieties. Up to 6' tall and wide. Zones 6-9.

If you can't find Gold Coast, look for Chollipo Euonymus. This has a similar color and looks great in a pyramidal topiary form. 

Unexpected Conifers to use as Small Christmas Trees

If you'd like to maintain the age-old tradition of bringing a conifer into the house. But, want to try something new. This year, try an extraordinary variety with unique features. Look for conifers with stand-out color, feathery foliage, or a weeping habit. These specimens will check the classic holiday box, but with much more flair. 

Pictured: Thunderhead Japanese Black Pine is a shrubby, compact form with an irregular growth habit. It adds character to your holiday decor. For a little extra "oomph," get it in its Asian PomPon topiary form and really make a statement. Up to 10' tall and 15' wide. Zones 5-10.

The Monrovia exclusive Little Rick™ Mugo Pine is a more compact, rounded, cold-hardy, and waterwise choice. It will stay bright green all winter.

Wichita Blue Juniper

This Juniper has a naturally narrow form that is perfect as a Christmas tree for tight spaces. The silvery-blue foliage looks bright year-round, making for a color that acts as its own tinsel. Add lights to add even more shine. Up to 16' tall and 6' wide at maturity. Zones 3-7.

Other upright alternatives include the Monrovia exclusives Sunburst™ Black Hills Spruce. This has a naturally dense, compact, and symmetrical growth habit. Plus bright yellow new growth that shines bright against the blue-green mature foliage. And the Guardian® Indigo Cypress, which has gorgeous silvery-blue foliage, great disease resistance, and a lovely upright conical growth habit. 

Feelin' Sunny®
Deodar Cedar

A stunning Monrovia exclusive with bright golden-yellow foliage and a spreading habit that looks beautiful as a large container specimen. Can be trained into upright or patio tree forms. Can reach up to 12' tall and 8' wide unpruned. Zones 7-9.

Like the shape but want a different color? Check out the silvery blue-green foliage and weeping habit of Feelin' Blue Deodar Cedar

Tiny Tower®
Dwarf Alberta Spruce

A true dwarf spruce with a handsome, perfectly pyramidal form and dense green foliage that is an outstanding container plant. A great choice for that classic holiday look on a much smaller scale.  Up to 6' tall and 2' wide. Zones 3-8.

A big hit every holiday season, the slightly larger Dwarf Alberta Spruce has traditional Christmas tree appeal. With a dense, perfect cone-shaped habit.

Donard Gold
Monterey Cypress

An upright-branching conifer with distinctive two-toned foliage creates a beautiful contrast against the cinnamon-colored bark. Chartreuse new growth has bright-yellow inner foliage. Slowly reaches up to 30' tall and 8' wide. Zones 7-10.

Ember Waves® Western Arborvitae is a more cold-hardy, colorful evergreen option. It turns a deep gold with glowing orange to russet-red tips.

Golden Duke®
Eastern Hemlock

A superb new evergreen with improved sun tolerance, and glowing golden yellow foliage on graceful, arching branches. A great choice for keeping as a container specimen year-round. This makes it available as your Christmas tree year after year. Slow growing, up to 20' tall and 3' wide in 10 years. Zones 4-8. 

See this conifer in a holiday container with FloralBerry® Sangria St. John's Wort and Sirens' Song™ Dark Night Heuchera.

Japanese Cedar

A superb selection that retains a natural dense dome shape with little care. The finely textured foliage becomes a rusty red in winter. It would make a statement as a compact focal plant for your holiday decor. Up to 3' tall and wide. Zones 5-7.

Like the textured foliage but want something a little more upright? Try the Emerald Fountain® Canadian Hemlock (Zones 4-8).

Golden Charm
Thread-Branch Cypress

Want to get a little funky with your conifer choice? Then this mop-headed, colorful thread-branch false cypress is the way to go. The unique gold color and weeping foliage are a fun alternative to the upright, green Christmas trees you see traditionally. Up to 6' tall and 8' wide, but can be kept smaller with annual pruning. Zones 4-8.

Looking for a greener and more upright weeping option? Try the Weeping Nootka Cypress.

Favorite Houseplants to Use as Christmas Tree Alternatives

Can you use a houseplant as a Christmas tree? The answer is an emphatic "Yes!" Large houseplants make amazing alternative holiday trees. This is because they are exactly what you need to elevate your home decor in any season. Plus, they're the most low-maintenance option, too — and we're all about making things a little easier on you this season. You can keep them in the same spot in your house after the season has passed. Just take off the holiday lights and ribbons. Then, it's back to filling its role as a spectacular living piece of art.

Pictured*: Abidjan Rubber Plant, which has new leaves that emerge in spikes covered in a bright-red sheath. This splash of color is like the star on top of a Christmas tree. It simply shines against the dark-green leaves. Up to 6' tall and 2' wide. 

*Rubber plants are mildly toxic to cats if the sap is ingested. The cat in this photo showed no interest in chewing this (or any other) plant. We can assure you that no animals were harmed in the making of this photo.

Rubber Plant

Dark, glossy green leaves have a dramatic hint of burgundy that fits perfectly with your other holiday decor. New leaves emerge in spikes with light-pink sheaths, like little natural ornaments. Up to 6' tall and 2' wide. 

ficus altissima variegata

Council Tree

This gorgeous statement plant has variegated foliage that makes a great focal point. It will look big and beautiful the instant you bring it home, so it's perfect for the holidays. Up to 6' tall and 2' wide. 

Fiddle Leaf

Huge leaves cover this large indoor plant from top to bottom. This makes it an unexpected Christmas tree alternative that will grow to be a tall mainstay in your space year-round. Up to 10' tall and 3' wide. 

Rubber Plant

This rubber plant has a festive color, with green and white leaves that blush with pink. Keep it small to fit your space, or allow it to grow into a tall statement plant. Up to 6' tall and 2' wide.


A rare indoor plant that is gaining popularity, this African native has huge heart-shaped leaves. It grows into an upright tree that would make a great holiday tree every year. Requires bright, indirect light and high humidity. Up to 4' tall and wide. 


A selected variety of Banyan with trunk-like aerial roots that make for a truly unique holiday tree. Makes a great easy-care, low-light large houseplant with emerald green leaves and a distinctive white trunk. Up to 10' tall and 3' wide.

Get More Inspiration for the Holidays

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2023-11-17 22:50:00