Life

Casual Gardener: A tree for life – not just for Christmas

A Christmas tree's appeal can outlast the festive season…

A living tree can be repositioned into a pot or the garden after Christmas

THE festive season seems to begin earlier every year. I don't know whether to blame Brexit, climate change or glue.

Tomorrow is the first day of December; Christmas is 25 days away, yet many households have had their tree and decorations up for weeks already. I can't help thinking this prolonged celebration somehow dilutes the occasion, with seasonal goodwill spread too thinly and festive spirit worn out by the beginning of Advent.

In what will predictably be dismissed by many as ‘bah humbug', I advocate a hefty tax on Christmas lights and decorations, geared in such a way that cheap, ultra-tatty items such as reindeer with flashing noses or plastic snowmen become financially prohibitive.

As traditionalists, our household's (real) tree won't go up until mid-December – however, to ensure we bag a decent specimen, we'll buy it earlier and store it secured upright outside with the base of its trunk sawed fresh and placed in a bucket of water.

Increasingly, however, I'm being tempted by a living tree that can either be planted in the garden afterwards or left growing in a pot and used again at Christmas 2020.

The approach here is much different to a conventional ‘real' tree, however, as these are not houseplants and they won't tolerate a prolonged period indoors.

Bring the living tree inside as late as possible and keep it in the house no longer than a fortnight. Locate it in a cool room away from radiators and if starts to look like it's under stress, take it back outside.

The advantage with such as approach is that your tree isn't just for Christmas but beautiful all year round – but maybe without the tinsel, fairy lights and baubles.

Spruce (Picea) and fir tree (Abies) are the two main Christmas tree genus, though they can also make interesting points of focus in the garden. The range is extensive, and every pine tree has its own personality. There are species that look like they've come straight from a Japanese garden, interesting silhouettes with hanging branches for a bit of theatre on the patio, and beautiful full fir trees with a bluish grey tone that lights up beautifully in the moonlight.

Fir trees grow in the Caucasus and Asia Minor, other species also grow in Korea, Japan and North America. Spruce is native to large parts of northern, central and eastern Europe and large areas of Asia.

Spruce is officially a hardy needle conifer, but it looks like a true pine tree, often complete with cones below the branches. It can have a classic pine shape, with layered branches that stretch out around the stem, but they can also be spherical, trained as a pyramid or have hanging branches.

Nordmann fir (Abies nordmanniana) is increasingly being sold as Christmas tree, and is also used widely for festive foliage: a slightly more expensive tree, but very decorative with its shiny dark green top surface and grey underside, it suffers less needle shed and has an attractive arrangement of the branches for positioning decorations and lights.

Planting rooted trees in the garden later is possible, but be aware that Nordmann can reach a height of 20 metres.

Noble fir (Abies procera ‘Glauca') has an attractive bluish green colour, coarse, soft needles and a strong fresh scent. This species is often used at Christmas.

Korean fir (Abies koreana) is an exceptionally attractive Christmas tree that may already be bearing indigo cones at the selling stage, unlike other Christmas trees. The needles are shiny green on top and have a silvery white underside.

In order to be planted out in the garden, the tree must have a sizeable root ball. Keep it well watered after planting.

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