Enjoying a Christmas tree indoors is one of the true pleasures of the season – the smell of fresh pine or fir, a plant-filled and suddenly-green living room, sparkling lights from morning to bedtime. In terms of sustainability though, not so much.
A well-placed conifer in your landscape, however, can provide green all year long – and for decades to come as well. If you can place it near a large window where it’s visible inside as well as out, even better. Decorated with some lights and birdseed ornaments, it may be the only holiday tree you’ll ever need.
Nurseryman Todd Faller of Faller Landscape & Nursery in York has been testing conifers for almost two decades. He plants them in a seven and a half acre pasture, mulches them, waters them once and never pays attention to them again except for an occasional yearly spray of roundup for weed control and an annual pruning of double leaders or broken branches. Faller said, “Plant and walk away is my motto. If the tree has to be babied, then it tells me a lot about its character, its longevity, its will to make it here in the Great Plains.”
What has he learned from this “trial by pasture”?
Faller has planted Korean, Alpine, Fraser, Canaan, balsam, Manchurian and concolor Fir, “many varieties we’re told that shouldn’t be planted in this type of situation.” He’s also planted Norway, Black Hills, Serbian and blue spruce, white, Austrian, Scotch, lodgepole, lacebark, pinyon and border pine, as well as a handful of cultivars of these species. To his somewhat expected but pleasant surprise, “most varieties have done well, even with recent drought and some dry years 2000-2004.” For him, Fraser Fir struggled the most but he said “that’s not surprising since it and balsam fir are native to cool, moist and more temperate environments.”
He doesn’t recommend that homeowners put trees to the same “Survivor” reality test but he does think many of our trees can take more than we give them credit for. Faller recommends taking into account a tree’s native range and the conditions it’s accustomed to, and then using that as a guide to run a few trials of your own, “Every landscape is ultimately an ongoing test and together we can learn what plants are hardiest in regional conditions.”