Q: We live in a small home and don’t really have room for a normal cut Christmas tree. We want to have a tree and are hoping you can suggest something instead of a big tree. – W.T., Albuquerque
A: You are in luck when it comes to finding a smallish tree to have for the holidays. At most nurseries and garden centers at the big box stores you should find available either wee cut trees if you want to go that way and several choices for living trees – some that’ll need to be considered houseplants for all of their lives, and others that would be plantable outdoors.
In the greenhouse section you’ll find potted Norfolk pine trees sure to offer the green tree you’re looking for. Norfolk’s are very pretty pyramidal-shaped trees that usually have space between each branch set, allowing you to fill these guys with ornamentation. Also potted you can find Italian stone pine trees. This tree is usually a bit more grayish-green in color but they look very much like a standard pyramidal-shaped tree. Probably you’ll notice rosemary plants that have been sheared into a Christmas tree shape, too. Who knows, there might be other choices to fit the bill of a small living tree offered this time of year.
Since these types are living and do come from the houseplant section of the shops, you’ll need a saucer to set the creature on so you don’t mar your furniture or flooring and are able to water as needed to keep it alive. If your living tree comes to you in a decorative sleeve or wrapping the bottom will need to be sliced open or cut away completely so the pot drains. All living trees allowed to sit in a constant puddle will collapse because there is no available oxygen in the soil so the roots can breathe. Remember that a plant that is over-watered shows the same symptomology as a plant that is under-watered. Since the plant looks thirsty our first thought is to offer more water, contributing to the collapse of the plant. So, the potted plant needs a way to drain. Another words, plan ahead.
Also know that the Norfolk pine would never be plantable outdoors here in this climate. It’ll be a houseplant forever. The stone pine and the rosemary plants – since they’ve been cultivated indoors – could suffer dreadfully if planted out after the holidays so you might need to keep them as a houseplant until the weather changes next year. Perhaps kept on a sheltered patio and covered with a box nightly to ward off freezing temperatures could keep them safe but that’s a big commitment of responsibility on your part.
You can light these smaller trees but you should aim to use the smallest lights you can find. Heavy stands of lights could maim a small tree. And remember: never leave the lights on if you’re not there to monitor the situation. Be safe.
Nowadays vendors have also taken into account those of us living in small spaces and usually do have a selection of cut trees to use in our smaller worlds. One year I had a cut tree that couldn’t have been more than 2 feet tall and around. So manageable and perfect to give that cut tree fir scent that I needed in my small space.
I’m confident that you can, with a bit of searching and proper planning, find a smallish tree. Be it a living tree to have for seasons to come or a small cut tree to scent your world, I know you have lots of choices and will find something to work in your world. Happy decorating, Digging In.
Need tips on growing your garden? Tracey Fitzgibbon is a certified nurseryman. Send your garden-related questions to Digging In, Rio West, P.O. Drawer J, Albuquerque, NM 87103.