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.

Evergreens From Our Home Gardens

91225thumbEvergreens are popular for home décor through winter because there is not much blooming so late in most other American climates. The tradition endures, even though cut flowers of all sorts can easily be purchased from common supermarkets nowadays. Here on the West Coast, where several varieties of flowers can bloom through winter, evergreen foliage is as popular as it ever was.

Christmas trees are the most substantial form of traditional seasonal evergreens. The biggest wreaths occupy less space, and are mostly confined to walls rather than floors. Garlands can be big too, but their less defined form fits more neatly into limited space. For many of us, neatness is not a priority. Displays of evergreens and all the associated ornamentation can get quite elaborate.

Not many of us grow our own Christmas trees. It is more practical to purchase them as if they are very large cut flowers. Most but not all of us who hang garland likewise procure it already made. Some purchase prefabricated wreathes too. However, it is possible that more of us create our own. Other bits and pieces of evergreens are unlikely purchased. Most are from our home gardens.

Most of the pine, spruce, fir, hemlock, yew, arborvitae, and various genera known collectively as cedar, that are traditional evergreens in other regions are scarce here. A few other exotic species of pine, as well as natives, are more common in some landscapes. There are also different cedar and arborvitae. Blue spruce can sometimes be found. Douglas fir is native to nearby mountains.

Other regions lack the abundance of various cypress and juniper that are common here, as well as coastal redwood. (Redwood foliage is perishable once cut.)

There are no rules about cut evergreens anyway. Within reason, we can cut and bring in whatever we happen to find to be appealing in our gardens. We should cut the foliage properly though, as if pruning. Also, we should not cut too much from any particular spot, but instead harvest evenly over a large area. It helps to take pieces that are out of view, or that need to be pruned out anyway.

Argyle Apple

51104What an odd name. It sure sounds interesting, like some sort of exotic fruit tree. Alas; argyle apple is a eucalyptus; to be specific, Eucalyptus cinerea. Compared to most other eucalypti, it stays rather low. It barely gets as tall as a two story house, even if it gets broad enough to shade most of the backyard. The rusty brown bark becomes roughly furrowed. The irregular branch structure can be quite sculptural.

The main attraction of argyle apple is the aromatic silvery foliage. Young trees are outfitted with circular juvenile leaves that are attached directly to the stems without petioles (leaf stalks). Lanceolate adult leaves are as silvery as juvenile foliage is. (Juvenile foliage of most other eucalypti is more colorful than adult foliage is.) Aggressive pruning of small trees keeps foliage juvenile for a long time.

Actually, those who know how to work with it might pollard or coppice argyle apple. Pollarding eliminates all foliated stems at the end of winter, but for the rest of the year, allows vigorous arching canes of very silvery juvenile foliage to spread outward from a few stout limbs on top of a trunk. Coppicing allows the same sort of growth from stumps just above grade.

Vahz, Vawz or Voz

P81020‘V-A-S-E ‘ is probably how it is spelled, just like that which is pronounced exactly as it looks, or ‘vays’. ‘Vahz’, ‘vawz’ or ‘voz’ just sounds fancier, . . . or bigger.

That is how I learned it. ‘Vays’ is the smaller version that is designed to contain one or only a few flowers and maybe some foliage. ‘Vahz’, ‘vawz’ or ‘voz’ is the much larger version that is designed to contain entire bouquets or ‘floral arrangements’. Those that contain only dried flowers and foliage do not even need to hold water.

I learned this from those who were experts on the subject. My Aunt Betsy and her best friend Cathy were ‘flower children’. They rented an apartment in a hip and trendy neighborhood in western San Jose back in the early 1970s. The neighborhood was so trendy and hip that the neighbors were known as ‘hippies’. Aunt Betsy and Cathy outfitted their apartment accordingly, with wicker, shaggy rugs, and a big spider plant hanging from beaded macrame.

Of course, there was also a rather big ‘vahz’, ‘vawz’ or ‘voz’. It was cheap molded plaster painted glossy chocolaty brown. It contained a billowy abundance of only two species of dried cut flowers, cattails and pampas grass, that had been sprayed with hair spray to prevent them from sharing their seed. It was as gloriously hideous as it sounds, and more than adequately expressed impeccable cultural refinement and a keen appreciation for the remarkably distinctive and exquisitely tacky style of home decor that was so prevalent at the time.

The cattails might have been collected on the side of Highway 80 in Auburn, near the home of Aunt Betsy’s Great Aunt Mamie. The pampas grass might have been found in Vasona Lake County Park in Los Gatos.

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.