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Milberger's Nursery and Landscaping
3920 North Loop 1604 E.
San Antonio, TX 78247

Open 9 to 6 Mon. through Sat.
and 10 to 5 on Sun.

Three exits east of 281, inside of 1604
Next to the Diamond Shamrock station
Please click map for more detailed map and driving directions.

Click here

Weekly Express-News Article

By Calvin R. Finch, PhD, SAWS Water Resources Director, and Horticulturist

Saturday, December 13, 2008 

Living Holiday Trees

You can argue that holiday trees cut from the plantation or with their roots intact are live trees. For this article, we will consider that the trees that still have their roots are living holiday trees.


There are advantages and disadvantages to using a living tree as your holiday tree. The major advantage is that the tree can be planted in the landscape to add value and beauty for years to come. That is, of course, if you select the right species of tree and handle it well during its stint as a holiday tree.


There are three generally suitable conifer species for the dual purpose holiday tree; Aleppo pine, Italian stone pine, and deodar cedar.


Aleppo pine, Pinus halepensis, originates from the Middle East and has been used as a landscape tree in the San Antonio area for decades. Many were planted on the military bases. It eventually reaches 45 – 50 feet tall with a typical straight open pine bole. The sheared holiday tree version has short needles and a tight crown. After it grows through the impact of shearing the needles double in length to four inches and the tree opens up.


Italian stone pine, Pinus pinea, makes a good sheared holiday tree and survives well in our landscapes. It could grow to over 50 feet, but unlike Aleppo pine, it forms a flat-topped crown shaped like an umbrella. The needles are gray-green, and stiff. The Italian Stone pine is a slower growing tree than the Aleppo pine or Deodar cedar.


Deodar cedar (Cedrus deodara) makes the most attractive landscape tree of the recommended varieties. It is a graceful tree with sweeping branches. The needles often have a hint of blue color. The tree grows relatively quickly and like the other recommended holiday trees it can grow in our poor soils. Many of the older specimens in the city have killed tops from the severe freezes in the 80’s and early 90’s, but they are still beautiful. The deodar cedar is a true cedar and not a juniper like the hill country cedars.


The disadvantages of using a living holiday tree is that they are heavy and require even more planning than a cut tree.


The nursery that sells you the tree will help you load and secure the living tree to your vehicle. Except for very small trees, a pick-up truck or an auto with a trailer is the best way to haul it.


Have plenty of help and a dolly on hand to move the tree from your pick-up truck to its indoor location. If you can decorate it on the patio or porch that is even better.


To maximize the chances that the living tree will successfully survive the move from the house to the yard, plan to only keep it in the house for two weeks. That may mean you will need to remove the decorations immediately after the holidays and move the tree outside in a holding location until you can plant it. This holding location is best if it receives morning or full sun.


In the house, keep the tree well watered, but not soggy. For the sake of your rugs and floors, place a water tray under the container and water slowly so the water emerges from the container, but does not overflow the tray.


Do not put the tree in front of a heat register or in a spot where it will be blasted by afternoon sun. It works to keep the curtains closed until evening if the best location is in front of a Western facing window.


Plan where the tree will be planted in the yard. All the species described need full sun and considerable growing space. It can even be a fun family thing to do to dig the hole as part of the Holiday activities. Everyone is in need of exercise and the quicker the tree is planted, the more chance it has for survival.


If you want a small living holiday tree that can be planted in the landscape or a container, consider sheared rosemary. They do not smell like a conifer, but they do have a fragrance that most people consider pleasant (not me!). Rosemary grows to about three feet tall. It is evergreen with blue flowers in the spring.


There are a number of other species of trees that can survive as a holiday tree before being planted in the landscape. Arizona cypress and ornamental junipers work well if you find one that is acceptable as the holiday tree.


Avoid Afghan (Eldarica pine). A few years back they were thought to be the ideal combination landscape and live holiday tree, but the majority have been wiped out by a fungal dieback. They make a nice sheared holiday tree, but do not survive well in our landscapes.


The same thing goes for Virginia pines, and all the acid loving East Texas pines.