Christmas Trees Are Major Cut Foliage

Few Christmas trees are naturally compact.

Cut foliage is a common ingredient of ready-made mixed bouquets. Bundles and individual stems of cut foliage are available with cut flowers from florists. Cut foliage is the primary component of most wreaths and garlands that are now so popular for Christmas décor. It is another horticultural commodity like cut flowers, bulbs or nursery stock. Cut foliage is like vegetables that no one eats.

Cut Christmas trees are extreme cut foliage. They just happen to be much larger than stems of cut foliage that become wreathes and garlands. They grow on plantations like other crops. Contrary to a rather popular belief, Christmas trees are a renewable resource. Furthermore, cut Christmas tree production is less detrimental to the environment than the production of live Christmas trees.

Time and space are the only advantages of live Christmas tree production. As they grow, they occupy less space for less time. Obviously, cut Christmas trees need more space and time to grow. However, they do not consume proportionate quantities of water and fertilizers. Nor do they necessitate the consumption of the various plastics and synthetic potting media that potted trees need.

Regardless of the best intentions, few live Christmas trees come home for Christmas after their first. They often get too shabby through warm and dry summer weather to bring back in. The small and inexpensive sort with attached decorations rarely survive potted for more than a few months. If live Christmas trees were less perishable, their consumptive production could be more justified.

Whether they retire after a single Christmas or several, live Christmas trees must recover from previous shearing. Only dwarf Alberta spruce are naturally densely conical. Pruning other species to strict conical form is unnatural and disfiguring. As they recover, live Christmas trees need space to grow. Many, such as Italian stone pine and Canary Island pine, get far too big for urban gardens.

Experienced arborists concur that many problematic trees were originally small and seemingly innocent live Christmas trees.

Not So Merry Christmas Trees

Cut Christmas trees are just really big cut foliage, like what comes with cut flowers.

By now most people have already acquired their Christmas trees. Some are live trees in containers. Some are artificial. Most are cut firs, pines, or alternatively, spruces, cedars, cypresses or even junipers. For at least the next two weeks, these trees dutifully maintain their healthy green vigor to brighten our homes with Christmas cheer.

Cut trees should have no problem lasting from the time they were originally cut through Christmas, as long as they get plenty of water. Artificial trees do not have much choice in the matter. Live trees are probably more reliable than cut trees are in regard to freshness, but can be more awkward to accommodate in the home, since they are more likely to leak excess water that can damage floors. If they they get a bit dry, live trees can also be sensitive to relatively dry and warm interior air after spending autumn out in cool and humid garden environments.

The main problem with living Christmas trees though, begins after Christmas. Spruces and other compact evergreens that can work as Christmas trees for several years need to be returned to the garden and maintained until next Christmas. Retired living Christmas trees, including those common, small trees that can be purchased with a few decorations already wired to their stems, eventually need to be planted out into the garden. Circling roots (that grow around the perimeter of a container in search of a way out) need to be severed so that they do not get constricted as they mature.

Unfortunately, with few exceptions, living Christmas trees mature into significant trees when they get the chance to grow. Those common, pre-decorated trees are most commonly juvenile Italian stone pine or Canary Island pine, which become very large trees. Because they seem so innocent as small potted trees, they often get planted in very awkward situations where they do not have enough space to grow without damaging nearby features.

Planting such a tree out in a forest is not practical, since it will not survive through the first year without supplemental watering. Their roots are just too confined to reach out for moisture. Even if such a tree could survive, it would not be an asset to the forest, since it would be an exotic (non-native) species.

Christmas Trees – Dead Or Alive

41203thumbChristmas trees are like vegetables. Really, they are like big vegetables that do not get eaten. They are grown on farms, and then harvested and sent off to consumers. Although they smell like a forest, and they are descendents of trees that naturally grow in the wild somewhere, there is nothing natural about their cultivation. In fact, most are grown a very long way from where their kind are from. Therefore, bringing a cut Christmas tree into the home takes nothing from the wild, and does not interfere with nature any more than eating vegetables does.

Firs, particularly Douglas fir, are the most popular of Christmas trees. Pines are probably the second most popular. Redwoods, spruces, cedars, cypresses or even Junipers can also work. They each have their own distinct color, texture and aroma. Healthy and well hydrated trees that continue to get watered as needed should have no problem lasting through Christmas. Ultimately though, cut Christmas trees are not good for much after Christmas, and eventually get composted or otherwise disposed of.

Living Christmas trees might seem like a better option to cut Christmas trees because they dispel any unfounded guilt associated with cut Christmas trees, and initially seem to be less disposable. The problem is that they have problems of their own. Simply purchasing one is a big expense. Even the big ones are smaller than cut trees, but much heavier and unwieldy. Contrary to popular belief, only a few types that grow slowly, such as some spruce, can actually live in a tub for more than one or two years, and even they can be finicky.

The main problem is where to plant a living Christmas tree when it outgrows its container. Conifers innately do not like to be confined for too long. Yet, in the ground, most grow into substantial trees. The common little Christmas trees that are already decorated are actually the worst since they are juvenile Italian stone pines or Canary Island pines, which grow big and fast. Potted trees can not be planted out in the wild because their confined roots need to be watered until new roots can disperse. Even if they could survive, non-native trees should not go into natural ecosystems.

Tannenbaum

IMG_1983Many towns display a Town Christmas Tree in a prominent and centrally located public space.

The Town Christmas Tree in Los Gatos is a now mature but formerly feral deodar cedar that grew by chance next to the railroad tracks where they passed through downtown a very long time ago. As the railroad tracks were removed, and the rail yard was redeveloped into the Town Plaza, the maturing cedar tree survived the process to become the most prominent tree there. Because it just happened to be a symmetrically conical coniferous tree in the most prominent spot in town, it was a natural choice for the Town Christmas Tree. It gets lit up and decorated for Christmas, and is where children can meet up with Santa Claus.

The Town Christmas Tree in Felton is the Featherstone Tree, which is a mature coastal redwood tree that happened to be planted right on the edge of Highway 9 a very long time ago by Mr. Featherstone, simply because he admired the species so much, https://tonytomeo.com/2017/10/05/big-tree-in-a-small-town/ . Like the Town Christmas Tree of Los Gatos, it just happened to develop into the right sort of tree in the right spot to become the Town Christmas Tree. It too gets lit up and decorated, although it is not as conical as it used to be.

Last year, someone delivered a decorated cut Christmas tree to a picnic area in Felton Covered Bridge Park, where many of the Homeless Community congregate. No one knows who delivered it, or how he, she or they did so undetected. It was a rather fancy tannenbaum (fir) that was not cheap. Someone or a few someones put quite a bit of effort and expense into this unusual gesture, to share a bit of joy with others in the Community.

It was not like a Town Christmas Tree for the Homeless Community, as if the Homeless Community is somehow separate from the rest of Felton. It was more like a household Christmas tree for those who lack a house to live in. It certainly made the annual Christmas Luncheon for the Homeless Community there at the picnic area much homier.

Merry Christmas!

P71225Does anyone else think that it is odd that Baby Jesus got only some frankincense, myrrh and gold for His first Christmas? I mean, it was the first Christmas ever, and that was the best that anyone could do? Well, maybe those gifts were something important back then. Maybe it was a good heap of gold. It just seems to me that three ‘wise’ men could have procured better gifts. More than two thousand years later, some of us are disappointed if we do not get a new Lexus on Jesus’ birthday, after He got only frankincense, myrrh and gold. (Get your own birthday!)

Although I do not remember my first Christmas, I know that my parents and others got excellent Christmas gifts for us kids when we were young. Our stocking that hung over the fireplace were filled with a mix of nuts, mandarin oranges, cellophane wrapped hard candies and small wooden toys. This is a tradition that dates back to a time when citrus fruits and certain nuts were something fancy that needed to be imported to Northern Europe from Mediterranean regions.

Of course, citrus grows quite well in our region, and almonds and walnuts still grew in the last remnants of local orchards. Our great grandparents had two mature English walnut trees in their gardens. Only pecans and hazelnuts were exotic. I happened to like pecans because they are from Oklahoma. (I did not know where or what Oklahoma was back then, but I knew it was an excellent place.) Hazelnuts were from Vermont, which is twice as far away as Oklahoma is, if you can believe that!

The gifts under the Christmas trees were even more excellent! One year, I got packets of seed for a warm season vegetable garden the following spring. There were seed for pole beans, corn, pumpkins, cucumbers and zucchini. (The cabbage incident that I will write about later happened in the cool season garden the following autumn.) Under the Christmas tree at my grandparents house, I got all the gardening tools that I would need in my garden, including a small shovel, garden rake, leaf rake and hoe. But wait, there’s more! Under the Christmas tree at my great grandparent’s house, I got flower seed for bachelor button, alyssum and a few others, as well as bare root rhubarb plants (from my great grandfather’s rhubarb that he had been growing longer than anyone can remember). I had already learned about seed from my first nasturtiums (https://tonytomeo.wordpress.com/2017/10/07/dago-pansies/), so I could not have been more pleased with my cache of gifts.

For later Christmases, and also birthdays, I got all sort of other things that were much more excellent than frankincense, myrrh and gold, including an incense cedar (how appropriate) that my grandparents brought back from the summer house near Pioneer, and a young ‘Meyer’ lemon tree. My Radio Flyer wagon was the biggest and most excellent in the neighborhood, and was more than sufficient to haul all my gear around the garden with. My big watering can was a bit too big, and was too heavy for me to move when it was full of water.

I would not say that these gifts were extravagant. They were just . . . okay, so they were extravagant. It was a long time ago. Unfortunately, my parents figured out that their gifts were somewhat excessive just prior to buying me the Buick I wanted. The wagon is still around. My mother uses it to bring in firewood. She also uses the little shovel to clean ash from the stove.

(The gardening article that is regularly scheduled for Mondays is scheduled for tomorrow. The featured species that is regularly scheduled for Tuesdays is scheduled for Wednesday.)P71225+

Christmas Trees And Cut Foliage

31211thumbThere should be no guilt associated with a cut Christmas tree. They were stigmatized many years ago, when some people believed that they were harvested from forests, and more of them likely were back then. However, most of us now know that, except for a few that actually are harvested from the wild, Christmas trees are grown on farms like most other cut foliage or horticultural crops.

That is how Christmas trees get their nice Christmas tree form. Only spruce and a few types of firs grow so densely and symmetrically in the wild; and spruce are not commonly cut as Christmas trees. Almost all types of Christmas trees need to be pruned or shorn for density, symmetry and maybe even form. Most of the foliage for wreaths and garlands is likewise grown on foliage farms.

Contrary to popular belief, living Christmas trees are no more environmentally responsible than cut trees are. They are farm grown and artificially irrigated exotic (non-native) trees in vinyl cans filled with synthetic media (potting soil) and synthetic fertilizers. Just like cut trees, they need to be shorn unnaturally. Then, after all that effort, most die and get discarded after Christmas anyway.

Those that survive are usually more trouble than they are worth. Because they are exotic, they should not be planted out in the wild. Because their roots are confined, they would not survive without irrigation through the first year anyway. A few types that grow slowly and maintain density might stay potted and be brought in at Christmas for a few years, but that requires diligent maintenance.

The worst problem with living Christmas trees is that they often get planted into home gardens that can not accommodate them. Few people know what kind of tree their living Christmas tree is, or realize how big it can get. Some trees are Italian stone pines or Canary Island pines, which simply get too large. Even junipers, arborvitaes and smaller pines need adequate accommodations. Arborists can attest to damage caused by living Christmas trees in bad situations.