Christmas Tree Choices
How did we come to decorate green conifers inside our homes for the Christmas holidays, anyway? The custom of evergreen trees as a symbol of Christmas appears to date to the 16th century in Germany. The earliest European reference to holiday conifers is a Bremen guild chronicle of 1570 which reports how a small fir was decorated with fruits, nuts, and colored paper and erected in the guild-house for the guild members' children.
Riga, the capital city of Latvia in the northern Baltics, claims (though without proof) to be home of the first Christmas tree--an octagonal plaque in the town square reads "The First New Year's Tree in Riga in 1510" in several languages.
During the 17th century, the custom entered family homes in Germany, and in the early 1800's became popular among the nobility and spread to royal courts as far as Russia.
In Britain, the Christmas tree was introduced in the mid 19th century by King George III's German Queen Charlotte but did not initially spread much beyond the royal family. Queen Victoria as a child was familiar with the custom, and after her marriage to her German cousin, Prince Albert, the tradition became more widespread. Christmas trees for the populace were popularized by illustrated English magazines in the mid 1800's, and from there, the tradition spread to Anglophile American upper class.
Living trees should only be kept indoors for ten days or so. Before the tree is brought into a heated room, it should be conditioned to help lessen the shock, by keeping it in the garage or other unheated area for a few days. When you bring it indoors, set it in a coolish location, out of direct sunlight, and away from heat sources. Use tiny lights to decorate it - those that don't produce heat. Watering is essential. Moisten the soil thoroughly before you bring the tree indoors, and keep it moist the entire time that the tree is indoors. When it is time to put your Christmas tree outdoors again, you should move it to an unheated area of the house or garage for a few days, before planting it into your landscape.
We list below some commonly available Christmas tree types, but don't limit yourself to the traditional. If you feel that these would not be appropriate planted in your particular Sonoma County landscape, why not use a coast redwood - (Sequoia sempervirens) - or a stone pine--(Pinus pinea) - or a Leyland cypress—(Cupressus Leylandii)? You could even choose something that is not at all traditional - one year we decorated a queen palm with red, gold and silver balls and gold and silver garlands; another we festooned an olive brought in from the patio. Once we grouped three different-sized potted Leyland cypress together in the "tree corner", massed as one, covered the pots with the traditional snow-representing white sheet, decorated the lot, and strew the presents underneath. Two of those three survived transplanting, and remain handsome additions to our landscape.
Common Christmas Tree Types:
Blue Spruce--Picea pungens
Blue spruce has a narrow, pyramidal shape and cone-shaped crown. Needles are 1-1 1/2 inches long, 4-sided and have a very sharp point on the end. Some trees have a more distinct bluish-white or silvery-white foliage.
Scotch Pine--Pinus sylvestris
Probably the most commonly used species as a Christmas tree in the United States. Dark green foliage and stiff branches which are well suited for decorating with both light and heavy ornaments. The needles of Scotch pine are produced in bundles of two, and have a whitish-silvery appearance on the bottom.
White Fir (or Concolor Fir) - Abies concolor
A tree with nice shape and good aroma, a citrus scent. Needles are small and narrow and occur in rows, usually 1/2 to 1 1/2 inch long, pointed or notched at the tip, bluish.
A tall, beautifully symmetrical tree. The needles are roughly 4-sided (similar to spruce), bluish-green to silver, generally twisted upward.
Douglas Fir - Pseudotsuga menziesii
The branches are spreading to drooping, the buds sharply pointed, with needles dark green or blue green, 1 to 1 1/2 inches long, soft to the touch and radiate out in all directions from the branch. They have a sweet fragrance when crushed--one of the best aromas among Christmas trees.
Live trees are available throughout the County at nurseries such as Sonoma Mission Gardens and Urban Tree Farm. If you want a non-traditional tree, your choices are even wider.
©Sonoma County Master Gardeners