90102thumbPeople really stress out over Christmas trees. Some do not want a cut Christmas tree because it involves killing the tree. Some do not want an artificial Christmas tree because it is . . . artificial. Some do not want a living Christmas tree because it is too expensive for a tree that is too small. There are so many myths and misconceptions about Christmas trees, yet everyone wants one.

As mentioned, artificial trees are . . . artificial. Obviously. They are not a horticultural commodity, so are not an appropriate topic for a gardening column. What can be said about them is that they are not a more environmentally responsible option to disposable cut real trees. Countless dinosaurs died to make the petroleum for the plastic that these non-biodegradable trees are made of.

Cut trees are still the most environmentally responsible option. They are not harvested from forests, but from plantations, just like any other cut foliage, cut flowers or vegetable crops. Many are grown from the branched stumps of previously harvested trees, by a process known simply enough as ‘stump culture’. It works like coppicing, and allows some stumps to produce for many years.

Potted living trees are the most misunderstood type of Christmas trees. There is nothing environmentally friendly about them. They are exotic (non-native) trees grown in synthetic media (potting soil) in vinyl pots. They get synthetic fertilizer, artificial irrigation and very unnatural pruning while growing within artificially regulated environments that are designed to promote efficient production.

Only a few of the more compact types of living Christmas trees, like Colorado blue spruce and dwarf Alberta spruce, can survive confinement in pots for more than just a few years. Austrian black pine and dwarf limber pine need a bit of trimming as they grow, but also have the potential to work for a few Christmas seasons. The common small potted Christmas trees that are already decorated are Italian stone pine and Canary Island pine, which do not survive confinement for long, and get too big for home gardens.

8 thoughts on “Secret Lives Of Christmas Trees

    1. Thank you. Years ago, I remember so many people mentioning that they wanted living trees because they did not want a tree cut down in the forest, that I started to believe that some trees were actually harvested from forests. They also explained that their living trees could be planted out in the forests, but such trees just died out on the patio later in the year anyway. They would not survive in the forest, and if they did, would be exotic.


  1. I didn’t know about the stump growth. That’s interesting. I’ve had all of them, small potted, cut, and artificial. I bought the fake one when I kept walking by it telling myself it would just cook in my warm home. It was gorgeous and I thought about places I could plant it out in the spring. Then I walked by one more time and touched it. Not real. Very surprised. Yup, petroleum products of some sort. It’s the perfect size and I’ve been using it for more than 10 years. But the cut ones smell so good!

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    1. Well, dinosaurs really know how to grow them.
      The only Christmas tree plantation that I ever worked on uses stump culture. It also grew a mixed trees, rather than crops of the same sort. It was a place where people cut their own, so it seemed more like a forest with the different trees all mixed up like that.

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      1. My father had a tree nursery and part of it was Christmas trees. I remember planting rows of the little bare root seedlings, then helping people look for the one they liked, once they’d grown. They were Scotch pines, I think, though there were also white pines and Norway spruce. The ones that didn’t get cut must be huge now!

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      2. Wow, those are three that we do not grow here. Scott’s pine is sometimes seen in landscapes, but is too irregularly structured and too slow to grow as a Christmas tree. Norway spruce does not like the dry air, so grows tall and lanky. White pine might do well, and I just planted a cultivar of white pine, but not many here know about it.

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      3. The only specimens that I know of here are small because they are not very old. When we put three into the arboretum at the farm, we really did not know what to expect from them. I would not have planted them so close together. There is a Western white pine too, but is is rather . . . weird.


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