Living Christmas Tree for Our Area

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Outdoor tree decorating for the holiday season that lasts all through the winter season and looks just as nice the rest of year? Well there are options that will work here nicely.

Lots of folks consider the Fraser Fir the ultimate Christmas Tree and would love to plant it on their property here in the Piedmont. Unfortunately that beautiful tree isn’t suited to our climate here. There are other trees that can be used out in the landscape as a full time evergreen feature.

One of my favorites is the Momi Fir, also called the Japanese Fir (Abies firma). It strongly resembles the Fraser fir in looks and shape, and handles our climate just fine. However, it is a “poky plant”, which is probably why I like it.

The Moni Fir is a needle evergreen in the conifer family that is native to Japan. It can grow to 70 feet or taller with a broad conical crown. The leaves are dark green fragrant flattened needles that spread at nearly right angles from the shoot. The needles are notched at the base; with a sharp prickly point.

This fir is more tolerant of hot humid climates than most firs are and can be grown in the southeast. It doesn’t have serious insect, disease or other plant susceptibility problems. It is even immune to the balsam wooly adelgid which can be a problem for other species of fir and it is resistant to phytophthora root rot, which is a problem for many landscape trees and shrubs in our area.

Plant this tree in full sun or with some afternoon shade in average, consistently moist and slightly acidic soil. It is also tolerant of clay soils. You can use it as a specimen for a large yard, screening or as a Christmas tree.

Evergreen

There are other evergreen choices as well. The Arizona Cypress cultivar “Carolina Sapphire” has beautiful silvery blue/teal coloration year-round. This tree grows best in full sun and well-drained soil, is moderately drought tolerant and salt tolerant, and has a low water requirement once established. The good news is it can withstand the heat of summer! It grows well on slopes and in sandy soil as well. It is relatively trouble-free, and moderately deer resistant.

The eastern Red Cedar (is really a juniper) is the old southern traditional Christmas tree, and is loved by many. This robust tree bears small, light blue-green clusters of flowers that mature in late winter or early spring. The tree produces a nearly spherical blue fruit that matures in the fall on female trees. The foliage is a dark, shiny, green color and has a distinctive fragrance. The Red Cedar is easily grown on average, dry to moist, well-drained soils in full sun. It will tolerate a wide range of soils and growing conditions, from swamps to dry rocky glades. It prefers moist soils but can’t handle constantly wet soils. It only tolerates the shade when it is extremely young. It has the best drought resistance of any conifer native to the eastern U.S but is susceptible to twig blight and scale. Bagworms are also a problem. Mites may occur, as well. Like the white pine, this plant has a high flammability rating.

The Green Giant Arborvitae features dark green sprays of small, glossy, scale-like needles that retain their deep green color through the winter. This tree does best in a moist (but well-draining), full-sun location with light afternoon shade. It tolerates a wide range of soils and, in optimal conditions, can grow 3-4 feet per year. It resists most diseases, insects, periodic drought, and deer.. Like the Leyland and Sapphire, it does not drop dead needles. Another appeal is its sweet, almost perfumed aroma. It is a rich green color with flattened branches.

Leyland cypress works for a cut Christmas tree, but in the landscape as a permanent feature it can be problematic. Leyland Cypress is prone to many treatable and untreatable problems. Bagworm is a serious issue, and bagworms can defoliate an entire tree in a matter of a few weeks. It is also susceptible to canker and root rot, specifically Armillaria and Phytophthora root rots and Seiridium and Botryosphaeria canker. Canker typically affects a tree following a period of drought. Both the root rots and cankers are incurable.

White pines bring the aroma of the north woods. The needles are soft and pliable, 2.5 to 5 inches in length in bundles of 5, and blue green in color. White pines have dense branching to give them a full conical shape. The Eastern White Pine grows naturally in high, dry, sandy and rocky ridges and is tolerant of a wide range of soil conditions. However, it most prefers full sun, moist, well-drained, fertile sandy loams, and cool, humid climates and full sun. In cool summer locations, white pine can grow quite well. It is, however, susceptible to a large number of insect and disease problems. Blights and rusts are the main diseases, with its most dangerous enemy being white pine blister rust which is a bark disease that is usually fatal. This plant also has a high flammability rating and should not be planted within the defensible space of your home. Select plants with a low flammability rating for the sites nearest your home.

Create your own Winter Wonderland that carries the magic of the season all through the year with some of these evergreen tree ideas!

Minda Daughtry is the Horticulture Agent for North Carolina Cooperative Extension in Lee County.