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The Right Christmas Tree

by Bee Mohn

Choosing a Christmas tree can be a tough task. For those who want to buy a tree and later plant it in their yard, the choices are daunting. Here's help in choosing the right tree for your landscape, and placing it correctly to enhance your design.

Barbara Abita, certified landscape designer for David Wright, Landscape Architect, Branchville, New Jersey, offers the following tips for buying a B&B or containerized Christmas tree.

White Pine (Pinus strobus): It will eventually be a towering forest conifer and so it needs plenty of open space. Pyramidal when young, it becomes more open and lollipop-shaped as it matures. It needs a lot of width. “We use it in privacy screens and plant it at 10 to 15 foot intervals to grow together and become one solid hedge. They are favored by deer and will be stripped clean up to four feet above the ground. If you need privacy from four to five feet down, you're not going to get it. We don't use it that much for that reason."

She suggests thinking about pine needle clean-up. Do you like the natural look of pine needles under the tree year round? Or do you want to rake them up twice a year? “Plus, not a lot will grow under white pine."

Blue Spruce (Picea pungens): “It's the most popular large conifer we use because the deer leave it alone." Blue spruce grows slightly narrow, comes in different varieties and remains pyramidal when mature. It tolerates light shade. When planting a privacy screen, Abita and crew plant it a little closer together than they do white pine because it's columnar and grows slower.

She often recommends 'Fat Albert' when looking for a smaller stature tree; 'Fastigiate' for a narrow form; Englemann for a softer silhouette.

“Blue spruce has a very horizontal line to it when you look in the landscape. We use it when looking for that form. Pick it by the color. Blue spruce can be green. Stand back and look at the group and find the one with the bluest silvery sheen to it. The more blue, it may be priced a little higher.

"Blue Spruce is almost like cliche We try not to use it but with heavy deer pressure we have to."

Concolor Fir, White Fir (Abies concolor): “We do not use it often because firs do not get along with blue spruce. Don't put blue spruce near certain firs." One is a disease host for the other. In the landscape the concolor fir has a soft light blue color and soft texture. It needs little pruning and retains a tight pyramidal shape. It grows slowly to 30 to 50 feet tall and 15 to 30 feet wide.

“We haven't seen the deer eat it where we have it, and you don't see this tree very often which is nice."ť

Korean Fir (Abies koreana: Quite different and unusual, this little fir grows to just 15 to 30 feet tall, which makes it a great compact tree for most people's yards. “The cones on it are purple, almost blue, and they just shine on it. They're ornamental, like flowers."

Douglas Fir (Pseudotsuga zimenziesii): It has a very soft texture and is almost conical, large tree growing 40-80 feet high with a 12-20 foot spread. It's a tree for a large landscape and it doesn't like wind.

“By placing a large conifer in your landscape, keep in mind the scale of your house," says Ms. Abita. “If you put a Norway Spruce that will reach 100 feet next to a ranch, it will overwhelm the house. Use dwarf and low-growing evergreens on the north side of the house and for privacy and windbreaks, but always keep in mind the scale. In privacy screens, we like to mix them up to get a variety of texture. If you use spruce (pyramidal) and white pine (lollipop), your privacy hedge has a top and a bottom.

"We use them in odd numbers - maybe three blue spruce, one white pine and five white spruce."

Be daring. Buy yourself an ornamental conifer to forever enjoy. You can choose from traditional trees or other smaller or more ornamental varieties of pine, spruce, fir. Go to a nursery to find some of these special trees.

David Wright, Landscape Achitect

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published December 08, 2004

Photos to enlarge

Mature White Pine

Some blue spruce are bluer.

Concolor Fir & Blue Spruce

Norway Spruce, young and clipped

Umbrella Pine

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