He who plants a tree, plants a hope. – Lucy Larcom
You can live for years next door to a big pine tree, honored to have so venerable a neighbor, even when it sheds needles all over your flowers or wakes you, dropping big cones onto your deck at still of night.
— Denise Levertov
No town can fail of beauty, though its walks were gutters and its houses hovels, if venerable trees make magnificent colonnades along its streets.
— Henry Ward Beecher
One of the things I love best about Christmas is the way it inspires people to reach beyond their own lives, to look for ways to make the world a better place for everyone to live in. In this brief, magical season more than any other time of year parents seek out ways to teach their children the value of giving of themselves; people who have much are moved to share their wealth with those who have little; and humankind seems to draw just a little closer, however briefly, to that distant dream of peace on earth and goodwill toward men.
In that spirit, I’d like to offer a simple idea for giving a small gift of health and beauty to the earth and its inhabitants: buy a living Christmas tree this year. Most tree nurseries stock them between Thanksgiving and Christmas; some offer a better selection than others. Imagine how much more beautiful the world could be in just a few years if everyone who normally buys cut trees every December were to switch to living ones!
We’ve used living trees for the past ten years or so, and through trial and error we’ve learned that there are big differences between one species of tree and the next, and that each variety has its pros and cons. Here’s a useful summary for anyone who might be considering switching to a living tree and isn’t sure what to look for.
Pines are the least expensive and fastest growing. They don’t grow in that conical shape naturally (they are professionally pruned into the “Christmas tree” shape), so once they’re planted in the ground they’ll quickly become tall and bushy. Pruning off the lower branches as the tree grows will give you a nice shady tree with a small “footprint.” The only real downside to using pines as living Christmas trees is that they quickly outgrow their pots: if you’re looking for a tree you can keep in a planter and use for two or three consecutive Christmases, a pine isn’t what you want.
Spruces are more expensive than pines, but also much prettier and slower-growing. A medium-sized spruce should be able to live in its pot for at least two years, if it’s given plenty of water, which makes it economical in the long run. They come in many different varieties and shades of green or blue.
Firs are my personal favorite. They tend to be the most expensive, but in the past we’ve used a fir for three years in a row before planting it, and if we’d started out with a smaller one we probably could have gotten a couple more years out of it before having to plant it. Plus, firs have beautiful short, soft needles that don’t scratch up your hands and arms when you’re decorating the tree. Noble firs are the prettiest, but are extravagantly expensive in pots (I’ve seen them for over $300), so we usually go with less pricey varieties, such as Fraser.
And if you’re looking for a tree you can use indefinitely, year after year, there are dwarf spruce and fir varieties that can live in a planter their whole long lives!
A few things to remember:
Living trees shouldn’t be kept indoors more than three weeks or so. In our living room the only place to put the Christmas tree happens to be about six feet away from our woodburning stove, so anything longer than two weeks is too stressful for the tree. We bring our tree inside a week before Christmas and take it back outside on Jan 2. Water frequently!
If you plan to keep your tree in its pot over the summer and bring it back in next year, keep it in the shade and water it often in hot weather. A tree in a planter needs more water and more shade than a tree in the ground.
Here are three trees on our property that all started out as Christmas trees:
Don’t have room to plant a tree? Donate it to a park or anywhere a new tree would be welcomed! The earth can always use more trees.
Think of as it as a Christmas gift to future generations.