Making the most of living Christmas trees BY ANNABEL SCHULER
should not be uttering the word, giving it the slightest ‘oxygen’ or committing it to print. But here goes … now is the time to start planning for Christmas if you would like to maintain your own living tree. There are several good reasons for growing your own Christmas tree. One is that it is not always easy to source a handy branch or small tree, especially when you are busy ticking 100 other things off the to-do list. Secondly, that needle-shedding, brown skeleton is not easy to dispose of afterwards. And thirdly there is something smugly efficient about having your ‘own’ tree nurtured and groomed throughout the year ready to be curated into a shiny little Christmas gem. There are a variety of suitable trees in garden centres and now is a good time to buy one and establish it before December rolls around.
Your choices include: • Cupressus sempervirens ‘Totem’ – Italian cypress • Thuja occidentalis ‘Pyramidalis’ – Upright conifer • Taxus baccata ‘Fastigiata’ – Upright Irish yew • Cupressus sempervirens ‘Gracilis’ – Cypress • Metrosideros ‘Maungapiko’ – A pohutukawa-rata cross for a New Zealand flavour • Picea abies – The Norway spruce is promoted as an ideal Christmas tree and takes pride of place in our house. All these varieties will grow into mature, tall trees if you let them, but contained in a pot and with a judicious prune each year you can keep them to a manageable size and shape while they add interest in your garden or on the patio for the rest of the year.
A useful hint is to place three to four ice cubes on the soil every couple of days; these will melt slowly and provide water without danger of spillage. 70
Once you have chosen your tree you should re-pot it as soon as possible – the container is important. If you are going to decorate the pot you do not need to be too fussy, but if you intend to display it unadorned chose a red, green, silver, gold or a shiny black one, to complement the overall look you are aiming for. The pot should be large enough to accommodate more growth. Use high-quality potting mix containing a slow-release fertiliser and be prepared to re-pot the tree every three years to maintain it at its green and healthy best. You can underplant it with annuals throughout the summer but remember these will take up some of the nutrients and moisture in the soil so both must be replenished regularly. When you bring your tree indoors in December chose the site well. The tree and pot will be heavy so place them on a solid table or shelf with a saucer underneath because you will need to do a judicious watering occasionally. If you are going to string lights on your tree be careful. Water and electricity do not mix, and battery-driven LED lights which emit less heat are recommended. A useful hint is to place three to four ice cubes on the soil every couple of days; these will melt slowly and provide water without danger of spillage. The ultimate advantage of maintaining a living Christmas tree is that it is a sustainable option and if it grows too big ultimately you can plant it out in your garden and start again.
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