On Gardening: Create family memories by planting a living Christmas tree

December 7, 2015

This 18-foot-tall Emily Bruner holly serves as the focal point of the formal garden at the Coastal Georgia Botanical Gardens in Savannah, Ga.

Christmas is a special time for making memories. Most memories donít come from gifts, although those slippers that look like giant stuffed roosters from the farm certainly make a lasting impression.

 Christmas trees on the other hand have a way of making a lasting memory just like the special ornaments that adorn them. Other than using a camera, one way to capture and make that Christmas memory last is with a living Christmas tree.

 When living Christmas trees are mentioned your first thought may be that I am referring to chopping one down or perhaps decorating one indoors and then planting it outside. In recent years however the living Christmas tree idea has shifted to out in the landscape. There is certainly good reasoning here as your evergreen of choice can be for specimen type plantings that will serve as an accent or perhaps the focal point of a particular garden. Informally clustered they can help give you good bones and structure in the garden.

 At the Coastal Georgia Botanical Gardens we make use of living Christmas trees during the December Nights and Holiday Lights festivities. With lights now numbering close to 750,000 we are always looking to incorporate dramatic new designs. While we are oh so envious of northern regions where firs and spruce are native and used with ease, we make up for it with picturesque hollies. Many hollies have that perfect Christmas tree form, and when adorned with bright red berries are ready for a picture postcard.

At the entrance we have staggered varying heights of hollies to mimic a grove of Christmas trees you might find in the forest. They are lit with solar powered white lights that give the idea of twinkling ice crystals. If you think about it, hollies with their conical shape really do make great Christmas trees. Many families find the first photo-op of their visit to be the 18-foot tall Emily Bruner holly which is the focal point in the Formal Garden. It is majestic in the daytime but at night, lighted with giant snowflakes and berry red lights it is festive beyond imagination. Oh and did I say this holly is surrounded by over 10,000 icy white lights?

But as visitors walk the trail through the Rainbow tunnel and down the Crape Myrtle Allee guarded by nutcracker soldiers, they come upon five Oak Leaf hollies with that idyllic Christmas tree form providing a dazzling light display in the Rose Garden. Hollies, like Festive, Little Red, Cardinal, Robin, Mary Nell and Nellie R. Stevens and even Fosters all have that classic shape that with minimal maintenance will provide a lifetime of Christmas tree enjoyment. They may prove to be a little prickly when placing ornaments, but the look is truly outstanding. Shiny, metallic garland and lights look great on hollies as the leaves provide an extra reflection.

 If you want a living Christmas tree but canít wrap your mind around the idea of a holly then choose a conifer. If you live in zones 7 and northward you have wonderful options like Douglas fir, Frasier fir and of course one of several spruces. In the hot humid south our conifers of choice are the native Eastern red cedar, Deodar cedar and the exquisite blue-gray Arizona cypress. We not only use them in the landscape but also as temporary plantings in containers for decorating and you can too.

 Make a special celebration with your family in planting a living Christmas tree in the landscape this season and the memories are sure to come. Youíll remember how old your children were when the tree was planted and you can watch the tree grow as they grow. Doing this each year gives you a living ledger or diary of memorable holidays with the family.



Associated Press