Maintaining Your Cut Christmas Tree
By Tony Tomeo


One of my most respected arborist colleagues once described the difference between his career and mine, as a nurseryman at the time, is that I grow them up and he cuts them down. Of course, there is much more to it than that. However, we have found that one crop grown by ‘other’ nurserymen that ultimately provides considerable business for arborists is the ‘live Christmas tree’. He is regularly requested to remove large conifers from inappropriate situations where they were installed while still cute and innocent. In fact, a few years ago, he removed six large pines for a friend of mine whose family traditionally planted their live Christmas tree each year when it was retired from service.

Very few of the trees grown as live Christmas trees are actually suitable for installation into small gardens. Colorado blue spruce, Austrian black pine and Scotts pine are some of the few that do not become so obtrusively large that they require a quarter acre or so of personal space. The more common live Christmas trees are Italian stone pines, Canary Island pines, Monterey pines and Aleppo pines. Each might be accommodated into a larger garden with very careful planning, but will certainly not remain cute and innocent for long.

This is why I prefer cut Christmas trees. Now before you drop this newspaper into the recycle bin in disgust, you should realize that Christmas trees are not harvested from forests, but grown on farms, much like vegetable crops. One should not feel any more guilty about using a cut Christmas tree than one does about displaying cut flowers or eating broccoli.

This actually reminds me of another colleague from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo; not because of the wild but responsible time we had with the aforementioned colleague during our company picnic after my internship, but because she is now Mrs. Natalie Sare of Santa’s Christmas Tree Farm, east of Half Moon Bay (the first Christmas tree farm encountered when traveling from the east, located where Pilarcitos Creek Road meets Highway 92). Mr. Sare, who grows blue spruce, Monterey pine, coastal redwood and noble, Douglas and grand firs, has suggested that I mention a few other issues that those investing in cut Christmas trees should be aware of.

Trees purchased from tree lots that have already been cut should be given a fresh cut before taken home, unless stands and water dishes have already been installed. The fresh cut to remove the formerly cut surface, exposes a fresh surface that is more conducive to the translocation or moisture into the foliar canopy of the tree. If stands and water dishes have already been installed and water added, the trees were likely given a fresh cut prior to installation.

Water should be added to the reservoir in the tree stand at least daily to compensate for moisture lost to evapotranspiration. Tree preservatives added to the reservoir should also enhance the longevity of a tree. When transporting a freshly cut tree, wet towels or rags wrapped around the freshly cut stump will facilitate transition from the field to home environment. Trees should only be transported on top of cars for short distances and at low speeds to minimize rapid evapotranspiration that occurs in high winds. The base of the trunk should always be in front with the top of the tree in back so that limbs will be blown upward rather than downward.

Most communities provide for recycling of Christmas trees after Christmas. Details are usually described in correspondence from local garbage collection or recycling services. Other suggestions as well as information about local Christmas tree farms may be obtained from the California Christmas Tree Growers Association.

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