Small coniferous trees do not stay small for long.

One of the problems with driving my favorite vehicles that were old long before I learned to drive them is that I spend considerable time waiting for a bus or walking. The cool thing about that is that I get to seem so much scenery that I would otherwise drive past. While waiting nearly an hour for a bus at the Cavallero Bus Terminal in Scott’s Valley, I went across the street to see the landscape of the somewhat new Post Office, which has actually been there for many years now.

The landscape is a bit sparse in front (I think because of architectural modifications after the landscape was designed), so was outfitted with recycled live Christmas trees. Although none of these particular trees seem happy in the local climate or sandy soil, I had wanted to get better acquainted with them for some time. They are an odd assortment of spruce and fir that are rare here.

The more typical concern with the more common live Christmas trees is not that they are not well suited to local climates and soils, but that they actually do too well and grow much larger than expected. Except for the small rosemary, holly and English ivy ‘trees’, most coniferous evergreen live Christmas trees are young pines that get remarkably large; and some waste no time doing it! The most common live Christmas trees are Italian stone pines, which happen to be the two very large and broad trees in Blaney Plaza in downtown Saratoga!

Canary Island pines, which had been more common than they are now, do not get quite as broad, but do get very tall and messy. Years ago, Aleppo, Eldarica and Monterey pines all took their turns being popular live Christmas trees. Each of them grows large enough to require significant garden space.

This is of course not a problem for the few live Christmas trees that happen to get planted where they have plenty of space. However, those that get planted where they do not have room to grow can cause serious problems. Because they seem so cute and innocent while they are young, and are so often expected to stay cute and innocent, many often get planted dangerously close to houses, where they can displace porches, walkways and even foundations! Large pines, particularly Italian stone pines, are also too messy and potentially combustible (if not pruned and groomed regularly) to be too close to houses.

Sadly, large pines do not like to stay in containers too long. They can be pruned for a few years, but eventually get congested roots. (Bonsai techniques of root pruning can maintain even the largest types of pines in containers indefinitely, but not many of us know these techniques.) Small pines, like Austrian black, Japanese black and Scott’s pine (which has no relation to Scott’s Valley), as well as other small coniferous evergreens, like certain junipers, can stay in containers much longer, but these are the sort that are small enough to get planted in the garden, so do not necessarily need to stay in containers anyway.

If space is not sufficient, pines and other live Christmas trees that eventually get too large really should be given to friends and neighbors who have space to accommodate them. Fortunately, most do not require much attention once they get established after two years or so.

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