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Dear Friend and Gardener

Christmas Trees – Large and Small

Norway spruce

Norway spruce

One of the very first things I liked about our new house, or more specifically our new yard, was the very tall evergreen in the northwestern corner. It is a magnificent tree that might be 30 feet tall with graceful pendulous branches. On our first drive past the house I admired this beautiful tree in the backyard. It is not like any tree we had in view in Heath. There most of the conifers are pines or hemlocks.

I thought this tree was a Norway spruce although I cannot say what depths of my mind or imagination made me think so. With so much else to do I did not go out of my way to try and identify it properly. Now that it has produced some cones in its upper branches I have been able to confirm that it is indeed a Norway spruce.

Our tree doesn’t have any cones near the ground, but a zoom lens on my camera puts them within identifying distance and the long cones do match the photographs I found online.

Norway Spruce cones

Norway spruce cones

The Norway spruce, as you might imagine, is native to Europe and beloved by the Norwegians. It is disease resistant and deer don’t like to eat it. It likes acid soil and is hardy in zone 2 (hardy to -50 degrees) and tolerant of a zone 7 climate where the temperature rarely goes below zero. Any tree welcomes good soil, but this tree is very tolerant of clay or sandy soils with the caveat that it get at least 25 inches of rain a year. According to US Climate Data Greenfield gets an average of 50 inches of rain a year. After seven months working on our new house I have learned that my biggest gardening challenge is the poor drainage of my clay soil. The Norway spruce does not lack for moisture.

It is a fast growing tree, especially in the first 25 years after being planted especially under good conditions. At maturity it can reach a height of 100 feet with a 40 foot spread. It is not a tree for a small garden! Our street was laid out around 1925 so the tree was probably not planted before that, making it nearly 100 years old.

Norway spruce has a deep and wide spreading root system making it very sturdy in heavy wind, hence its frequent use as a windbreak tree.

Learning that the Norway spruce was a good and valuable timber tree, I did not think that it would make a very good Christmas tree. I was wrong. I just learned that Norway sends a majestic Norway spruce every year to London, Edinburgh, New York and Washington, D.C. In London it stands regally in Trafalgar Square; I don’t know where the other cities place their spruces. The trees are a gift in gratitude for the aid given to Norway during World War II.

We’ve had several varieties of Christmas tree over the years. Our first Christmas tree in Greenfield in 1971 was a straggly hemlock that began dropping needles as soon as we brought it into the house. A new friend took me and my three girls into the woods to have a real Christmas experience and cut down our own tree. The experience was not quite what we expected or wished for but it has made one of our favorite family stories.

Our first tree in Heath was a fat Colorado blue spruce that was growing right in front of the windows where we had our dining table to get a view of our beautiful landscape. The tree was not part of the view we wanted to admire. It had to come down. It was not too hard to cut down, but it was so fat and bristly with sharp needles that we all got a bit bloodied while trying to drag it into place. I’ve been told that  while the Colorado blue spruce is a popular Christmas tree, it is often sold as a small living tree in a pot so that it could be planted outdoors later. I certainly can understand that a baby blue spruce is easier to handle than a mature specimen. I hope most people do a better job of siting the tree than our predecessors did.

When we planted our snowbreak in Heath with Conservation District pines, we also planted a number of Balsam firs. We were able to harvest those trees for Christmas over the years, and did at least one additional planting that got us nearly through our tenure there. I do have to say we have had some very odd looking trees over the years. Planting trees intended for Christmas does not necessarily mean you will prune and care for those trees the way a professional tree farmer will.

Christmas Tree

Our Christmas Tree

This year for the first time in many years we bought a tree on Greenfield’s Main Street. It is a fat Fraser fir, one of the most popular tree varieties. It was well pruned and tended which means it has a lovely regular shape, but it does not have the space between its branches to hang larger ornaments. That was an adjustment for me, the chief tree decorator. When we had our own very irregular Christmas trees there was always empty space for large ornaments.

So this year, we have an imposing Norway spruce in the backyard protecting us from any bitter northwest winds, and a charming Christmas tree in  our new dining room where we will enjoy roast beast and sugar plums, and celebrate all twelve days of Christmas.  On January 6 the tree will be taken down and set out in the garden (such as it is) to hold suet and seeds for the birds.

My wish is that you each celebrate the holidays for at least 12 days, and find many happy days waiting for you in 2016.

Between the Rows   December 26, 2015

3 comments to Christmas Trees – Large and Small

  • Stuart Krantz

    I read this invasive is naturalized, so maybe this doesn’t matter, but regardless I ALWAYS fight invasives to save wildife:
    FYI: http://www.salicicola.com/plants/invasive/notes/20101024picea.html – “Because Norway spruce expansion is such a gradual process and also because young spruces look so innocent and attractive, it is easy to underestimate the amount of damage this tree inflicts on native American plants. Despite warnings and more and more evidence of Norway spruce’s aggressive nature, it is not yet included on the Invasive Plant List for New England.”

  • Your Norway spruce is beautiful. Reason enough to buy the house. Not sure when I will take my tree down. It is artificial as I have bad mold allergies. I was having issues on Christmas Day and then a week later realized it was likely the fresh pine centerpiece on the table. Happy New Year to you.

  • Happy New Year…that is quite a tree you inherited.

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