Garden Dilemmas, Delights & Discoveries, Ask Mary Stone, New Jersey Garden blog

Ellie’s Living Christmas Tree

Golden Retriever in the snow next to weeping hemlock decroated wiht a red Christmas ornament

Hello fellow readers, We were late putting up a Christmas tree due to waffling of what type of tree to decorate—a cut tree, an artificial, or a living Christmas tree, perhaps. In truth, my indecisiveness is primarily because of a heavy heart.

a small living Christmas tree inside decorated with white lights and a lighted blue starThe tree is on the corner of the family room in view while in the kitchen. Ellie’s bed still sits below it, with a lineup of her Christmas toys. It’s part of the decorations, I justify. But in truth, we are struggling with the emptiness of her being gone. Four months seems like yesterday.

The dilemma of cut Christmas Trees

Seeing happy passengers sporting trees atop their cars from the farm up the road lifts my heart, especially in the spirit of helping our local farmers. I prefer that someone else harvest the tree, though. Cutting it myself kind of reminds me of picking a live lobster for dinner.

Supporting businesses selling already cut trees is kindhearted too. Besides, it’s sad when some go unsold. Right up there, when a cut tree is left all alone Christmas Day when I’d travel to visit my folks in Florida, hence, why there’s Mr. Artificial.

How the idea of a living Christmas tree came to be
Golden Retriever in the snow next to weeping hemlock decroated wiht a red Christmas ornament

Ellie Christmas Day 2017

I adore the Weeping Hemlock (Tsuga canadensis ‘Pendula’) planted in memory of my brother Bill who passed just before Christmas seven years ago. Each year I decorate it with a softball-sized red ornament. It’s at the end of the rock garden next to a swath of graceful Hakone Grass (Hakonechloa) in its beautiful dry golden state.  I cherish a photo of Miss Ellie sitting next to it one white Christmas, appeasing my desire for a portrait. It inspired the idea to plant a live tree in honor of her. I grew up having balled & burlap (B&B) Christmas trees that Mom brought home from the garden center where she worked.

“Whatever you want, “Curt said, “But if we don’t find one today, let’s put up the artificial one.”

On Saturday, with the very same metal tub that served as the B&B tree stand growing up, we made our way through the fog to a nursery in Chester, NJ. It felt festive, almost like being in the snow.

Ellie’s ‘Baby Blue Eyes’ Spruce
blonde woman in pink garden with a three foot tall blue spruce in a red pot

Ellie’s ‘Baby Blue Eyes’ arrives home.

We quickly decided on a ‘Baby Blue Eyes’ spruce that stands about three and a half feet high. Its tightly branched intense blue color is stunning. Unlike the straight species of Blue Spruce (Picea pungens), which can grow to sixty feet, Baby Blue’s grow slowly to about fifteen feet tall and six to ten feet wide.

Our Baby Blue weighs about eighty pounds, not bad for two to tote. If we were to go for the five or six-footer, we’d be wrestling with 170 pounds or more. Yup, B&B’s are heavy. Another downside to a live tree is it shouldn’t stay inside for more than seven to ten days. But I’m going to push the envelope a few days using ice cubes to keep the root ball moist and cool. And it’s far away from radiators.

How to transition a living Christmas tree 

When temps are cold, it’s best to transition a live tree in an unheated garage for a few days before bringing it indoors and then again before taking it back outside. With the warm weeks prior, we could forgo that step. As an added precaution, I sprayed it with Wilt-pruf before bringing it inside to reduce moisture loss and prevent needle drop. It’s the same natural pine oil used to protect broadleaf evergreen from winter burn.

Ideally, you can plant your tree on a warm winter day in a hole pre-dug before the ground froze. Otherwise, place the tree in a protected spot and mulch heavily around the root ball. Then plant it come spring.

Curt never had a B&B Christmas tree before, “It’s a living and breathing thing.”

Indeed, more than most years, a living Christmas tree feels comforting. A promise of growth. It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas.

Garden Dilemmas? (and now on your favorite Podcast App.)

You’ll enjoy the related podcast that shares more of the story (link below and your favorite Podcast App.)

Spring Update- Here’s a link to the column themed around planting Ellie’s tree titled Gardening with Dogs.

Mary Stone, owner of Stone Associates Landscape Design & Consulting. As a Landscape Designer, I am grateful for the joy of helping others beautify their surroundings which often leads to sharing encouragement and life experiences. These relationships inspired my weekly column published in THE PRESS, 'Garden Dilemmas? Ask Mary', began in 2012. I dream of growing the evolving community of readers into an interactive forum to share encouragement and support in Garden and Personal Recoveries - seeking nature’s inspirations, stimulating growth, weeding undesirables, embracing the unexpected. Thank you for visiting! Mary

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