Rosemary Tree Maintenance Tips

Rosemary Tree Care
Those petite rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) Christmas trees you see at the home improvement store, in the market and at your local nursery are charming to look at, but can be a bear to maintain.

Rosemary Tree Maintenance

Because they look and smell so wonderful, they're almost irresistible. If you just have to adopt one of these seasonal beauties, make sure to take a look at the tips below.

Rosemary Tree Care
  • Consider the future. Rosemary can't tolerate a hard frost. There are some exceptions -- cultivars designed to survive to, say, U.S. Zone 5, but the rosemary varieties typically employed for topiary trees won't survive outdoors in the snow -- ever. If you live in a cold climate and plan on keeping your rosemary tree after the holidays, you'll have to maintain your shrub indoors until the weather warms up in spring. Next fall you'll have to bring it back inside, so be sure to keep it in a pot. Overwintering patio plants indoors is a common practice. You may even come to enjoy it and consider your plant commuters part of your extended family.
  • Don't repot. Rosemary doesn't like to be repotted until it is root bound. If you like to give your houseplants a great start in life by repotting specimens as soon as you get them home, resist the urge. Wait until mid-spring or early summer.
  • Watch the heat. Keep rosemary away from heat sources like warm electronics and heat registers.
  • Find good light. Although you can place your tree in a decorative spot like on top of your coffee table or on your dining table, if there isn't much sun in your preferred location, the tree will suffer. Ideally, you want to provide around six hours of light for your tree every day.

    It should be good light, too. That means light bright enough to cast a shadow on the floor when you hold your hand in a sunbeam. An unobstructed eastern exposure is good. A southern exposure is probably better in most areas. Light is important for the plant, but you can cheat by placing it in a decorative low-light location for a day or so and then putting it back in a well illuminated area for a couple of days. Rosemary Christmas trees are typically small, so moving one around isn't much of a hardship -- but it may mean life or death for your plant.
  • Rosemary Tree CareBe careful when watering. If you've killed rosemary trees in the past, the problem was probably with watering. Indoor rosemary is persnickety about water. You might have concluded that the dry indoor conditions warranted frequent watering, but this is deceptive. Rosemary will rest over the winter and doesn't really need much in the way of water or nourishment. It does need humidity, though. Water once a week, but mist the plant a couple of times a day. Maintain a layer of mulch at the soil line. It will hold the misted moisture and release it slowly.

    Another good idea is to keep your rosemary tree with a group of houseplants when you're not using it as decoration. The combined humidity created by the plants produces a favorable microclimate your rosemary will like.
  • Remove the decorations. Those cute decorations wrapped around the branches of your rosemary are not the plant's friend. Remove them if you can bear to. Otherwise, loosen them, and hopefully they won't cause too much damage to adjacent needles and supporting stems.
  • Remove the paper wrapper. The cheerful gold, red or green wrapper around your rosemary tree's pot can create a dangerous condition by trapping water. When the roots of rosemary sit in water, they die. When the roots die, the plant starves to death. You can handle this a couple of ways: Remove the wrapper; always dump any residual water a half-hour after watering the plant; place a tray outfitted with a layer of marbles (or stones) between the wrapper and the pot. The water will drain down to the tray away from the plant's roots and you'll still have the decorative benefit of the attractive wrapping.

Caring for Rosemary Christmas Trees and Choosing a Rosemary Tree - Final Words (Really!)

Rosemary trees sold as Christmas decorations have a beautiful triangular habit like real Christmas trees. This isn't natural. This isn't close to being natural for rosemary. Immature plants whacked and tortured into this shape are likely suffering from shock and need pretty favorable conditions in which to recuperate. Watch for drooping or dry needles that may indicate trouble ahead. If you follow the recommendations above, you will probably be able to salvage the plant and have a viable specimen after the holidays are over.

If you haven't purchased a rosemary Christmas tree yet:

Look for a bright green, vigorous plant.

Run your hand along its stems to make sure the needles aren't shedding (an important sign of problems).

Check the decorative wrapper (if you can) for standing water under the pot, and reject any plants that have been sitting in water.

If you do find a specimen you like and plan on transporting it in cold weather, protect the plant by placing it in a protective bag for the trip home. A paper bag provides the best insulation from the cold. Don't linger for a nice lunch out.  Even an hour in a winter cold car can hurt the survival prospects for most houseplants.

Good luck.


  1. Thank you for this post! I've killed Rosemary trees twice and gave up -- perhaps this year I'll try again and with my new-found knowledge it'll actually live past December 25th!

  2. Hey Herbal Yvonne,

    Let me know if your little refugee survives.


  3. Anonymous7:37:00 PM

    I bought two of these guys mostly knowing that I would make them into dried "spice." Are they ornamental or edible? Since they "turned dry and brittle" i've noticed that there is "white spots on the branches. Could it be pesticides or??? Want to grind them up, but don't want to if compromised. Thanks!

  4. Cassi,

    I wouldn't risk it.

  5. Anonymous10:09:00 PM

    I'm so glad I found this info; I work in the floral department of a grocery store, and we currently have a bunch of these guys for sale, but they are so finicky, and everyone I work with has a somewhat different opinion of how to care for them. I'm usually the person doing the watering, and I want to know how to properly do this so our customers aren't getting crap plants, seeing as they aren't super cheap either! Thanks!

  6. Saw this too late for my rosemary tree. It is drying out and drooping and there are roots coming out of the bottom of the pot. Is it as able or should I just give up?

  7. Hi Winfredda,

    When rosemary starts to decline, it does it pretty spectacularly and quickly. If your plant's needles are still predominantly green, try some sun therapy: Take a look at the weather report for your area, and put the plant outdoors in the sun on days that will be 40 degrees F or higher during the day. Bring the plant indoors in the evening if the temps will be lower than 38 to 35 degrees F at night. Hopefully, you can do this a couple of times a month for at least a few hours at a time -- starting now. When you bring the plant back indoors, place it in your sunniest window. Spritz it often with room temperature water and blow on it occasionally if the area near the window tends to be still and stale.

    Good luck.



Share some ideas.