Now that Thanksgiving is over it is time to think of Christmas trees. Instead of a cut or artificial tree, what about a living tree?
The three living Christmas trees that will become a good outdoor tree in the Antelope Valley are the eldarica pine, aleppo pine and Italian stone pine. These three pine trees are very common pine trees used in local landscapes.
When these trees are grown for Christmas trees, they are trimmed into a pyramid shape to look more like a traditional Christmas tree. In the case of the Italian stone pine, sometimes called blue pine, the trees are treated with a growth hormone to keep the needles in the juvenile blue stage.
Of the three pines, the eldarica pines naturally grows in a pyramid shape and once planted outside it keeps its shape better than the other two pine trees. The eldarica pine will quickly grow to 25 feet tall and 10 feet wide and eventually become 50 to 60 feet tall.
There are three pines that are closely related and often mislabeled or confused in the industry — the eldarica pine, the calabrian or brutia pine, and the mondell pine. All three of these pines will grow in the Antelope Valley and look and grow very similarly, but the calabrian pine has darker green needles.
The aleppo pine is the most common pine tree in the Antelope Valley. It also has a pyramidal shape when young but has a tendency for the branches to hang down or weep. Because of its weeping growth habit, aleppo pines may have a hard time holding up heavy decorations. The aleppo pine can grow to 50 feet tall and 30 feet wide.
The Italian stone pine, called a blue pine during the holidays, is the most common living Christmas tree. Italian stone pines are often treated with a growth hormone to keep the tree with small bright blue juvenile foliage. Once the Italian stone pine is planted outside it will take a couple of years, but the new leaves will eventually grow into long and dark green needles like the other pines.
As a young tree, it will stay pyramidal shaped for a few years. Later it will start to grow a rounded top. The Italian stone pine will grow to 20 feet tall and wide fairly quickly. However, there are some in the Antelope Valley that are over 50 feet tall.
Another pine tree occasionally sold as a living Christmas tree is the Monterey pine. The Monterey pine has been known to grow in the Antelope Valley, but it does not like our hot dry summers and tends to be short-lived. I would not recommend planting a Monterey pine in the Antelope Valley.
One of the most popular and expensive living Christmas trees is the Colorado blue spruce. Its silvery blue needles make it a beautiful tree that naturally grows in the traditional Christmas tree shape. The Colorado blue spruce does not like either our heat or dryness, but most of all it does not like our soil. It prefers an acid soil and our soil is very alkaline. This causes the tree to produce short yellow needles that easily fall off the tree. The Colorado blue sprucewill grow here, but it requires extra care to keep it happy.
There is also a green Colorado spruce. In the Antelope Valley, a Colorado blue spruce grows between 10 and 20 feet tall and about 10 feet wide.
Giant sequoias or redwoods are also sold as living Christmas trees and they will live outside in the Antelope Valley if treated with a little extra care. They also prefer a moist environment with cooler summers and acid soil. Our hot dry summer and alkaline soil causes leaf burns and dried out foliage. In the Antelope Valley a giant sequoia or redwood grows between 20 and 30 feet tall and about 10 feet wide.
Occasionally deodar cedars are sold as living Christmas trees. Also known as California christmas tree, these silver-leafed trees with a weeping growth habit can be beautiful large landscape trees. They also prefer a more moist, cooler summer and acid soil, which again causes problems for the tree here in the High Desert. The tree’s weeping growth habit makes it difficult to hang heavy decorations on the tree. In the Antelope Valley, a deodar cedar grows between 10 and 20 feet tall and about 15 feet wide.
At many of the nurseries, rosemary is trimmed into a small tree. Rosemary grows outside and has blue flowers that attract bees. In the nursery, the rosemary may have a nice scent, but inside your home the smell can become quite strong. Also, sold this time of year is the Norfolk Island pine, which is a houseplant; it cannot survive outside during the winter
All the living Christmas trees respond better in the Antelope Valley when they are given extra iron fertilizers, especially the Colorado blue spruce and deodar cedar.
Most homes have room for only one living tree in the landscape. If you are planting your second or third Christmas tree, your landscape can become easily overgrown.
This does not mean you cannot buy a living Christmas tree. Most cities will take living Christmas trees to plant in parks; many school districts will take the trees to plant in schools. If you plan to donate your tree to a school, city or any other organization, contact the agency first. It may take only certain types of trees. Choose your living Christmas tree carefully.
When selecting a tree, run your hands through the tree, if the needles drop off, then find another tree. When you get the tree home, keep the tree outside and be sure to water the tree at least twice a week. The tree should be kept in the house for the shortest time possible. Home heaters and fireplaces dry out the trees quickly, so find a location in your home away from the fireplace and heater vents. If you have a room humidifier, place the humidifier near the tree to help increase the humidity.
I water my living Christmas tree with ice in the house. The ice slowly melts watering the plant slowly, the ice also cools the root ball of the tree.
The key to being satisfied with your living Christmas tree is to be sure the tree is suited for your landscape and that you know what you will be doing with the tree after Christmas.