Santa and the Sester Dwarf

I know it seems early, but really, we are into the 2nd week of November. Thanksgiving is just two weeks away and Christmas – well, it’s coming quickly – and chances are, your family enjoys doing some kind of festive decorating for the holiday season. I know mine does.

A few posts back I mentioned that I was making an attempt to encourage my wife to miniaturize our holiday decorating to some degree. I talked about creating some winter themed container plantings which featured dwarf and miniature conifers. As I began to work on some of those new plantings, I realized how perfect these kinds of decorations would be for my urban friends living in apartments or condos. Most all of them have at least a small patio or balcony where they enjoy potted plants throughout the warmer season. Why not utilize those same pots that are now filled with spent annuals and perennials and fill them with holiday themed plants featuring conifers?

Picea pungens 'Sester Dwarf'
An ideal living Christmas tree, Picea pungens ‘Sester Dwarf’ looks great in a premium clay pot.

Some plantings could be larger and remain just outside the sliding glass door that leads out to the patio or balcony. Other smaller (and therefore more portable) containers could be brought indoors during the day to be enjoyed by the family and guests, and then be set back outside to prevent the plants from thinking spring had arrived early and begin to break dormancy. This same technique could be modified for folks desiring to enjoy a living Christmas tree this year.

In a past post I discussed methods of keeping a living Christmas tree in good health so that it can be planted in the garden following the holidays. Another option is to simply leave your featured tree for the holidays in a container and enjoy it on the patio or deck all year long. This seems to make great sense for the urban dwellers with limited space, both indoors or out.

Picea pungens ‘Sester Dwarf’ is an ideal selection for holiday decorating. This compact, symmetrical, Christmas-tree-shaped dwarf conifer has a pleasant, soft blue color to its foliage and looks good from sizes, small to large. It is definitely one dwarf conifer that I will be using this year for some of the new containers I am planting for our front walkway. Being a slow-growing conifer, ‘Sester Dwarf’ will be very well behaved in a quality container for a number of years. Then, one might either plant it in the garden or simply move it into a larger container to be enjoyed as your decorating heart desires.

Some additional great choices for containerized, living Christmas trees include:

Picea pungens ‘Fat Albert’
Picea glauca ‘Conica’
Picea glauca ‘Jean’s Dilly’
Pinus mugo ‘Tannenbaum’
Pinus helrichi leucodermis ‘Compact Gem’
Pinus helrichi leucodermis ‘Irish Bell’

It’s not too early to begin to make your plans for a successful season of holiday decorating!

Conifer Lover

Decorate your Hillside

As far as I am concerned, it is now officially, winter. I know, winter does not officially begin until December 21st, but as soon as we set our clocks back to Pacific Standard Time, the temperature dropped 20 degrees and it seems like it’s dark two hours earlier. Whoever invented the tradition of decorating our homes with thousands of colorful lights for the holidays deserves high honors.

As the cold and darkness of winter engulfs our lives, it is very helpful to see neighborhoods all aglow in festivity. I used to think that people putting their lights up on Thanksgiving weekend were out of their mind. I have to admit though; I sure would like to see some festive lighting now! Of course if my wife finds out about my desire to see the lights go up early this year, I have a feeling the next morning I’ll get up and find a BIG pile of all our lights between me and my morning tea.

I took a quick stroll around my garden this morning between downpours. In the back of my mind I was thinking about which trees my wife might like to see all lit up with her favorite lights. One she always loves me to decorate is our large Picea pungens ‘Montgomery.’ No wonder, he’s a very big boy now and has that fantastic traditional Christmas tree shape. Not far from my ‘Montgomery’ I see another compact conifer that is getting to the size and shape that should please my wife when she sees him full of tiny white lights. 

Picea pungens 'Hillside'
Picea pungens 'Hillside' has a greener tone and is a little more compact that his cousin 'Montgomery' behind and to the right.

Picea pungens ‘Hillside’ is one of my favorite compact Colorado spruce trees. With a growth rate at ½ to ¾ that of ‘Montgomery,’ this dwarf conifer will spend his first 10 or 15 years looking a little more like a roundish mound than a cone-shaped tree, but as he matures, he’ll take on a nice compact pyramidal form. At 30 to 40 years old, the old specimen at Iseli’s display garden is just nine or ten feet tall. Mine is considerably younger but has a good start on its Christmas tree shape, so he’ll look great cloaked in lights. 

‘Hillside’ has more of a greenish tone than some of the other popular dwarf Colorado spruce, many of which sport bright shades of blue. But, who wants all their conifers to be the same color anyway? Not me. I love to see all the varying shades of green and blue (and even yellow) that the Colorado spruce contribute to my garden. 

Yes, I think with the new, low energy-consuming LED Christmas lights available these days, I just may be lighting up my corner of the neighborhood early this year. Maybe I’ll combat winter depression by starting a new tradition with four months of festive holiday lighting from Halloween to Valentine’s Day! 

Conifer Lover

Christmas in September?

I don’t know if it is the sudden return to near winter type weather or what, but I’ve been thinking about the upcoming holidays. Can you believe that it’s just eleven weeks until Thanksgiving? I can – it feels quite a lot like November around here today. With the dark gray sky and constant drizzle, the sun doesn’t have a chance to warm things up today. I’m sitting near my woodstove, wondering if I’ve ever been tempted to light a fire this “early in the season” before –  it’s still summer!

As I sit here, trying to talk myself into believing that the sun will burn away these clouds and I’ll actually warm up this afternoon, my mind has been drifting to thoughts of Christmas trees and the wonderful wintery scent of conifers and cinnamon and peppermint. The winter holidays always bring a smile to my face and warmth to my heart, so why not imagine what my wife might like for her indoor decorating this year?

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m more of a harvest my tree in the wild kind of guy while my wife prefers things to appear neat and tidy with a proper sense of order. I’m thinking about a tree that I’d like to find for my garden, but would make a great containerized live tree for our holidays. I’ll need to convince my wife that it will be a fun new tradition to set up and decorate our tree just a day or two before Christmas so that the live tree will have the best chance of survival after our holiday fun.

Pinus leucodermis 'Compact Gem'
‘Compact Gem’ – The perfect symmetrical Christmas Tree

Pinus leucodermis (heldrichi) ‘Compact Gem’ is the perfect tree to fit my wife’s expectations of tidiness while providing an abundance of wonderful holiday perfume for my pleasure. There’s just nothing like the scent of fresh conifer greens in the dead of winter to lift ones spirits.

‘Compact Gem’ is one of the nicest, most compact, neat and tidy, perfectly shaped pines available. Its green color is rich and bright – even in winter – so that it will bring cheer to both the landscape and the winter holiday indoor decorations. Its branches are spaced enough to allow ornaments to hang and yet dense enough to hide the wires of the lights you might like to string around the tree.

In the landscape, ‘Compact Gem’ makes a stately specimen with perfect symmetrical form. Hardy to -20 degrees Fahrenheit, even my friends in Zone 5 will be able to enjoy this one. If you need a hardy, somewhat formal looking screen, ‘Compact Gem’ should work well growing up to 12” per year while keeping its compact tidy appearance.

Yes, ‘Compact Gem’ is the tree for me this year. If I were you, I’d get to my favorite garden center early and have them special order one. Then I’d let them hang on to it as long as possible before bringing it home. Check out my list of suggestions for a successful live Christmas tree experience in my past blog, “Weal kwissmas twees” while I cross my fingers and hope for a return to at least a couple more weeks of summer.

Conifer Lover

Weal kwissmas twees

Yesterday morning I was sitting near the window of my favorite little coffee shop in the heart of town. As I was sipping a warm and frothy hot chocolate, there came a “tap tap tap” at the window and one of my friends and her little girl were waving at me – I motioned them to join me.

“Sure is cold outside!” my friend said as her greeting.

“Hi Mistoor Wems-a-wola.” said the cute little blonde with pretty blue eyes.

“Hi sweetheart – are you and Mommy having fun today?”

“Yes! We are kwissmas shopping and we are going to get a weal kwissmas twee!

I looked up at the little girl’s mother and asked, “A living Christmas Tree, huh?”

“Yes, but I’m not sure that we can keep it alive. I’m so happy we found you here today. Do you think it’s a good idea?”

As we sat and chatted for a little while, I told her of an old Irishman I had met years ago. This old fella was full of all kinds of plant knowledge. Although I had always enjoyed the adventure of hunting for and cutting a fresh tree, this plantsman was an advocate for living Christmas trees.

Fat Albert Blue Spruce
'Fat Albert' will make a great Christmas tree and a fantastic addition to the garden.

“They’re a little more work,” I remember him telling me, “but the benefit is that you get to plant another tree in your garden when the season is over.”

Knowing where your new tree will live after Christmas is helpful in choosing the right tree for both your holiday, and your landscape. One of his tricks was to dig a hole as soon as you decide where your tree will live out its life. He emphasized that it could freeze hard any day – so be prepared. Dig your hole as you would for any tree you would plant in your landscape, and then fill it with mulch bags, or straw, and take proper precautions so you don’t create a safety hazard.

He recommended taking a family trip to the nursery as early as Thanksgiving. The nursery should still have the best selection of living trees at that time. Enjoy your tree on your patio or deck until just a few days before Christmas – it is important that a living tree stay inside for only 3-5 days. If they are in a warm house any longer than one week, they could break dormancy and greatly reduce their chance for survival outdoors.

Place the tree so that it is away from any heat vents, fireplaces or other direct heat sources. After the holiday, if the weather is temperate, (upper 30’s – 50’s) go ahead and plant – making sure to water thoroughly. If the weather is frigid, take the tree into a cold garage or enclosed patio to ‘harden’ it back off for a few days prior to planting. If the weather conditions absolutely do not allow for planting a tree, keep it protected in a cold garage, shed, or against the homes foundation until it can be properly planted. Don’t let the roots dry out while you are waiting for adequate planting conditions.

Containerized trees will be the easiest to handle and the cleanest to maintain in the home. While the tree is inside, keep the soil moist, but not soaking wet. Using ice cubes as a form of drip irrigation can work quite well. Be sure to place a saucer under the container to catch any drainage.

Conifer Lover