For The Answer
Live Holiday Trees
Have you often thought, “for as much as we have to pay for a harvested Christmas tree, we could have a live tree for the landscape.”? If you select the right variety and make a few special preparations, the idea of obtaining double value by purchasing a live Christmas tree is real.
The conifers that survive our soil and weather are Italian stone pine, Japanese black pine, Aleppo pine, Deodora cedar, Arizona cypress, bald cypress, Montezuma cypress and several junipers (cedars). Afghan (Mondale pine) will survive in a well-drained site for 10 to 15 years.
A number of area nurseries have one or more of the species listed above for sale as live sheared trees. At least one of the area nurseries offers four of the species. Italian stone pine, Deodora cedar, Aleppo pine and Afghan pine are available as sheared holiday trees.
Italian stone pine reaches 35 feet tall. Deodar cedar (Cedrus deodara) is a beautiful tree for the landscape. It has soft blue green foliage and resembles a blue spruce when it is a sheared Christmas tree. Deodar cedar reaches 50 feet tall and will be 30 feet wide. In a severe freeze the top can die back. A number of the larger specimens in San Antonio have the killed top as a result of the 1989-90 freeze. They are still attractive.
Aleppo pines (Pinus halepensis) were planted in large numbers on Kelly and Lackland Air Force Bases in the 50’s. Since then, however, they rarely appeared on the market except occasionally as a sheared live Christmas tree. It is a species that Mark Peterson, regional forester with the Texas Forest Service for this area, promotes as a live holiday tree that can be used in the landscape. Aleppo reach about 70 feet tall and 40 feet wide in our soils.
Afghan pines (Pinus eldarica) are also called Mondale or Eldarica pines. Until about 15 years ago, this alkaline loving pine was recommended for area landscapes and was the tree of choice for an area Christmas Tree Growing industry. It was very popular for its fast growth, drought tolerance and attractive shape. Unfortunately most of the trees in the area fell prey to a combination of pine tip moths and a fungal dieback. The dieback eventually killed most of the trees that were planted. The Afghans planted in poorly drained soils were first and even many of the specimens planted in well-drained caliche have died. The usual pattern for them seems to be to start dying from the bottom up after 10-15 years.
Live holiday trees are desirable if you plan to address the issues involved in using a live tree as the decorated holiday tree and then planting it successfully in the landscape. Here are some hints to consider in order to have a pleasant experience.
1) A conifer with a root ball and container attached is very heavy. If you have trouble transporting and moving a cut tree, think how tough a live tree will be. Plan your moves well and have a hand truck available.
2) Conifers require full sun to prosper so minimize the time that the tree is inside the house. Two weeks is a good target. Purchase the tree early to get the one you want but leave it outside in a location with morning sun until a week before Christmas.
3) Place the tree inside at a location away from heat registers and windows where it would a hot blast of afternoon sun. Keep the tree watered but not soggy. A drip pan is desirable so you can water until water seeps out the drainage hole.
4) Be prepared to plant the tree right after New Years day. Select a location in full sun at least 20 feet from the house for the larger trees (Aleppo, Deodara and Afghan) and 15 feet for the smaller Italian stone pine.
5) Dig the hole the same depth as the container and 2-3 times as wide. Avoid adding compost or root starter. The added expense does not increase survivability or growth rate.
6) Mulch such as compost, leaves, shredded brush, pine bark or pecan shells applied 3-4 inches deep on the surface over the root system will increase tree survivability and growth rate.
7) Water the tree in generously at planting, and then water every time the soil dries in the planting hole to 1.5 inches during the first growing season (January–September). That may be every 3-4 weeks in the winter and every week the first summer.
8) A watering from the lawn sprinkler is not adequate during the first year. Lay the hose at the base of the tree and run it until at least 5 gallons has soaked into the soil (15 gallons at planting). After the first growing season, all of the trees described will not require supplemental irrigation. They are all good xeriscape plants.