Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Northern California Coastal & Inland Valleys
December, 2004
Regional Report

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Take home a potted specimen instead of a cut tree, and you'll save money in the long run.

Oh, Tenenbaum!

Christmas trees are the traditional icon of the holiday season. How did we come to bring a tree inside the home to celebrate Christmas?

There is more fiction than fact involved in the history of the Christmas tree. Legend has it that early pagans worshipped living trees, decorating them with gold and silver ornaments. Then, in the very early days of Christianity, well over 1,000 years ago, Saint Boniface came across a group of pagans worshipping an oak tree, and in a fit of rage, he felled the mighty tree. To everyone's amazement, including Boniface, a fir tree grew from the roots. Boniface, eager to convert the pagans to his faith, declared the miracle to be a sign of Christianity. Whatever the reason, we cherish the tradition, and millions of trees are grown for it every year.

Selecting a Tree
If you are going to bring a tree inside your home for the holidays, there are several things you should know. The first is: Where is the best place to get a tree? Usually, tree farms are the ideal choice. You know the trees are fresh because you watch them being cut. If you intend to purchase a tree from a lot, check carefully for broken limbs. The tree you select should be very fragrant, which indicates that it has been cut fairly recently. Bounce the tree lightly on the ground to check for needle fall; freshly cut trees don't drop their needles.

After you purchase a tree, get it home and into a water-filled stand as quickly as possible. If you have a saw, make a fresh cut on the trunk. Make sure to replenish the water every day.

Safety Concerns
Placement inside the home is very important. Avoid setting the tree in front of a fireplace or near heating vents, and never use candles or open-flame ornaments on a tree.

Check the lighting cords carefully for frayed wiring or loose bulbs. Ideally, multiple strings of lights should have the connectors taped together. Don't leave the Christmas tree lights on when nobody is home. Not only does it waste electricity, the heat from the lights (although minimal) will dry the foliage and can create a fire hazard. Trees should remain indoors a maximum of 10 days ... so much for the twelve days of Christmas.

When I worked at Sunset Magazine we kept potted and cut Christmas trees on hand year-round for photographs. One year somebody emptied a can of cola into the water-filled stand of one of the cut trees left outside the photography studio. I cross my heart when I tell you that tree looked fresh until the middle of June!

Give Old Trees the Proper Send-Off
Another problem with cut trees is disposal. Some cities have a pick-up service and will designate a day -- usually a week or so after the holidays -- when they will come through the neighborhood with a chipper truck. Call your local parks and recreation department to see if your community has such a service.

Finally, consider this option: Live trees will thrive for years in containers. Picea glauca albertiana 'Conica' is an adorable little tree that will live happily on your patio when not serving indoors as an icon over the holidays.

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