PLANTING YOUR FUTURE
It is an amazingly short time before Christmas will be upon us and with it all the questions and pondering about “what should we do about a tree?”
My answer has been the same each year for decades – buy a living tree and plant it in your yard after the holidays. After 26 years on the same little patch of ground, I now have a very thriving grove of evergreen trees.
In many years I have been traditional and chosen either eldarica or aleppo pines; there have to be a half-dozen of each. Otherwise, I have been a bit more adventurous and used less ordinary pines, such as Italian stone pine, Japanese black pine, chir pine and even a ponderosa pine brought back from Flagstaff. Then I started going for evergreen, but not pine; soon a lovely group of cypresses and junipers meandered down other edges of the property.
Of all of those beautiful trees that now grace my property, I am most taken by the alligator juniper. Juniperus deppeana pachyphlaea, locally know as alligator juniper for the scored bark that it achieves in later years, is a wonderful native tree that can be found on the way up into the Santa Catalina Mountains after about 3,500 feet elevation.
We once found a monster that we were sure should be in the annals of the great trees, but decided it would be much too difficult to direct people to it. This particular specimen must have been more than 100 years old and, by reckoning, appeared to be 65- to 70-feet tall. But what was most astounding was its girth; three of us could not join hands around the massive trunk that was solitary until about 10 feet up where it branched off into three sections, each of which could have made an entire tree.
I doubt that I will live to see my alligator juniper reach such massive proportions, but it is doing a splendid job of getting there.
One of the most spectacular attributes of this particular tree is the sparkling icy blue-gray foliage. I argued with myself that it was not a traditional green to be used for Christmas, but it turned out to be one of my best decorated specimens ever.
For each of us, the Christmas tree and the memories it invokes pushes us toward keeping the tradition. As a child, we had a cut tree every year. As an adult, the protector in me would not allow me to be a part of the yearly slaughter.
Now each of us also must struggle with the space issue as the yards get smaller and landscapes come packaged to not include room for expansion. There are many times you hear of someone buying a house where an innocuous 6-foot potted little Christmas tree was transplanted and grew to be 40 feet tall (and still going). Problem is it was planted just a foot or two from the wall of the house. If you are going to plant your tree after Christmas, know your tree – and how big it will become!
Here are brief guidelines of the optimum potential:
• Aleppo pine: 40- to 80-feet tall with a billowy canopy as much as 40 feet wide.
• Eldarica pine: 30- to 70-feet tall, very pyramidal and as much as 25 feet across the “base” of the pyramid.
• Italian stone pine: Very slow-growing and very long lived. In a human lifetime it usually gets to 30- to 40-feet tall. (There are 200-foot tall giants in Italy.)
• Arizona cypress: 30- to 60-feet tall, with a rounded pyramid shape; can get as much as 25 to 30 feet across.
• Blue pyramid cypress: 30- to 50-feet tall, slender pyramid, not much more than 20 feet across.
• Spartan (or spearmint) juniper: Shaped in a tight pyramid, 15- to 20-feet tall and no more than 12 to 15 feet wide.
• Blue point juniper: 12- to 15-feet tall and 6 to 10 feet wide.
• Alligator Juniper: 40- to 50-feet tall and as much as 25 feet across in the first 30 years of growth.
Certainly, you have many other choices. Be creative. A whole world of wonderful plants can be a spectacular Christmas tree.
Cathy Bishop, co-owner of Mesquite Valley Growers Nursery, has more than 30 years of gardening experience. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.