This past year has opened many eyes to the necessity of turning away from the rapid consumption of natural resources to thinking in terms of sustainability and recycling materials already in the production system. One of the many things we can do as consumers to become a part of this movement is to purchase a living tree for Christmas. The traditional cut tree that most of us purchase is a sustainable industry. Christmas trees are grown on farms and harvested then replanted. However, this farm land could be used to grow food, lumber, or put to some other use that would fulfill the greater needs of our society. Likewise, “fake” Christmas trees could be made of recycled materials. In reality they are not. The various plastics, metals, and other materials used could be put to better use. Besides, these fake trees have become very expensive. Money is a resource that most of us have not had in abundance this year.
Living Christmas trees are an excellent way to stretch that budget. Any live tree can be decorated for Christmas then planted outside when the season is over. These living trees cost no more than the traditional cut tree and are certainly cheaper than fake trees. Instead of spending money on something that will eventually be thrown away, you now have an item that can literally last a lifetime. What a great way to commemorate the Christmas of 2009 while setting the right example for future generations.
While in the house, a live tree will require some extra care. First of all realize that the warmth inside the house may fool the tree into beginning spring growth in the midst of winter. For this reason we recommend that the tree be brought in and decorated then planted outside in the shortest length of time possible. Also, if electric lights are to be used, buy the type that remain cool to your touch and run them only when you are at home. Hot lights will dry the tree out and once again may cause premature growth. Before bringing the tree in, water thoroughly with compost tea, liquid seaweed, and/or liquid humate mixed with molasses. Once inside, place the container on top of several trash bags or heavy plastic to protect your floor. Water with a half tray to full tray of ice cubes every other day. This will serve to keep the roots cool and moist without an excessive amount of water.
While any tree or large shrub can be decorated, there are some that lend themselves to Christmas use by resembling the traditional pine, spruce, or fir tree. The following are a few suggestions:
Eastern Red Cedar (juniperus virginiana)- While considered somewhat of a pest in some parts of East Texas, red cedars grow naturally into a very dense Christmas tree shape. Perhaps the best suited native tree for this use, red cedars will work well in nearly every part of the state.
Virginia Pine (pinus virginiana)- While our native slash and loblolly pines are generally too leggy to make a good Christmas tree, Virginia pine is the tree most often used by Christmas tree growers in East Texas. If you live east of I-35, Virginia pine would be a good choice.
Afghan pine (pinus eldarica) – Also called Mondale or eldarica pine, is a good choice for those living west of the I-35 corridor. Once established, this desert pine can survive on rainfall in Central Texas and all but the driest portions of West Texas. Fifteen to twenty inches of rainfall per year is about right for this tree. Afghan pines should not be planted in areas that receive more than thirty inches of rain per year. At our nursery in Wichita Falls we purchase Afghan pines out of New Mexico that are specifically pruned to be used as Christmas trees. We have been doing this over more than fifteen years with excellent survival rates.
Italian stone pine (pinus pinea), Aleppo pine (pinus halepensis), and Austrian pine (pinus nigra), are three pines native to parts of Europe, North Africa, and the Mediterranean that might survive well in the western third of Texas including the Panhandle.
Pinyon pine (pinus edulis) – Also for our friends in the Panhandle and the high country of West Texas are the native pinyons. Because of the slow growth factor, these trees should never be cut down indiscriminately. Field dug or potted specimens should be available at local, family owned nurseries. Remote Pinyon (pinus remota) is especially rare and should only be purchased if seed grown specimens are available. Pinyon pines will not survive well at lower elevations or in areas that receive thirty inches or more annual rainfall. We have had mixed success using them in Wichita Falls.
These few suggestions will give the family what they expect to see in a Christmas tree plus give a reasonable chance of survivability in the right environment. As stated earlier, most any tree or large shrub specimen can work with a little imagination. Even a dead tree or part of a dead plant may be used. These can be used for firewood or even composted when the season is past.
For instance, a decorated mesquite branch has resided in my living room for nearly three years now. In all likelihood, it may serve its purpose again this year. My wife Nila and son P.J. are apparently very proud of it.
One of the more memorable Christmas trees in my life was a tumbleweed, painted white, adorned with blue ornaments, red ribbons, and strung with white lights. This was done by my mother and brother Brian. I still think it was one of the prettiest trees we ever had.
If you like the idea of a living Christmas tree but don’t have a spot to plant it, consider giving it as a gift or donation to your local park, church, school, or cemetery. Your money will be well spent as you give the gift of life. Please remember to buy local, buy organic, and buy products that have been recycled. Give the entire human race the gift of a sustainable future. PEACE on EARTH…………GOOD WILL towards MEN.