Miss Floribunda: What to do with your living Christmas tree after the holidays

December 10, 2011

Dear Miss Floribunda,

I see live decorated Christmas trees for sale in stores and online and am tempted to start acquiring these for the holidays instead of buying a cut tree. However, your “Christmas in July” column has made me look ahead and realize that in 20 years I could be facing a forest of conifers in my yard. Do you know of a place I could donate my trees after taking off the decorations?

Ecologically Earnest on Emerson Street

MISS FLORIBUNDA —

Dear Ecologically Earnest,

I have good news for you. The Franciscan Monastery at 1400 Quincy Street NE, Washington, D.C . – only about 2 miles away from Hyattsville – will accept live Christmas trees after the holidays or in the spring as part of a tree-planting program. The person to call is Ben Hill, president of the Franciscan Monastery Garden Guild, at 703.899.6592 to arrange for a time to deliver it. In addition, the City of Hyattsville will pick up your tree and take it to Magruder Park after the holidays to have it mulched.

However, you should not imagine that it is ecologically reprehensible to buy a cut tree. Tree farms replace the trees they sell with new plantings. What I consider ecologically irresponsible is to buy artificial trees, which use up resources and pollute the environment in the manufacture of such trees. They cannot be mulched. (On the other hand, my niece Meretricia and her husband Bling insist that they should be congratulated for getting their silver metallic tree from Freecycle, thus saving both the tree and the environment.)

If you plan to get a live tree and donate it later, here is a warning from an expert. Dr. Douglas Firr advises against getting a live conifer taller than 5 feet because they are likely to have severed roots. Even the smaller trees should first be kept in a cool garage or basement for at least a week after purchase and should not be kept in on display in your warm living room for more than 10 days. Otherwise, the tree will wake from dormancy and then suffer shock when it goes outside. Keeping it indoors any length of time requires some skill – for example, knowing just how much to water it.

Another alternative is to purchase manageable shrubs you can maintain as house plants, such as the Norfolk Island Pine or those rosemary topiaries graced with red bows. The rosemary “tree” can be planted in your garden or kept right in your kitchen. As you may know, rosemary is a tasty addition to many dishes, and is the main herb in Provençal cuisine. As you add to your collection outside, you could develop a charming fragrant hedge at the same time.

Or you could choose the slow-growing boxwood. Trimmed to a Christmas-tree shape, they are sold in December and can be decorated. It would be possible to keep one in a large pot for a number of years and bring it in each year for quite some time. Once planted outside, boxwoods make elegant hedges.

Now, on the West Coast and in Europe, it is possible to actually rent a tree and return it after the holidays. I’m hoping this exciting trend will reach us soon. Right now, probably the best idea for someone “ecologically earnest” is to make a gift purchase of a tree from one of the many online organizations that solicit such help. They use your donation to plant a healthy tree where it’s most needed.

To discuss these and other gardening questions, please come to the next meeting of the Hyattsville Horticultural Society at 10 a.m. on Saturday, December 17. This month it will be at the home of Herb and Victoria Hille at 4101 Gallatin Street.

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