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CHRISTMAS TREES, PLEASE! Part 1 - Are You A Real Tree Or Fake Tree Person? It's Living Trees For Me!

By John Clements, for Let’s Talk Plants! Reprinted with permission from a November 25, 2023, Facebook post appearing on San Diego Gardener. December 2023.

Are You A Real Tree Or Fake Tree Person?

There really should be a rule that no Christmas decorating should be allowed until the day after Thanksgiving at the earliest. As a boy, we really wanted all the Christmas gear out on the Friday after Thanksgiving. Are you a real tree or fake tree person?

Through the years, we tried a number of evergreens as living Christmas trees for our family. I am quite a sentimental person, so those trees became a part of our landscape, but also part of the tapestry of memories that still live on. Here is a bit of a rundown on some of our experiences. I’m a grey hair, so the list is long from lots of Christmases.

Deodar cedar: thumbs up, gorgeous trees, can get huge.

Monterey pine: just ok. They don’t do well long term and like lots of water. Also prone to disease here.

Sequoia sempervirens: too sparse for Christmas and ultimately unhappy in the garden. Not a good tree for our area. Hates our salty water, and very thirsty.

Sequoia gigantea: thumbs up loved that tree. Did well. I saw some last week in a nursery in Fresno.

Ilex burfordii: the holly part of the holly and the ivy-was fun and different, can ultimately really become a tree and not just a large shrub.

Pinus torreyana: really sparse as a Christmas tree, but became part of a cool Torrey pine grove at the bottom of my canyon property; in cultivation they can get huge.

Pinus halpenensis: Aleppo pine. Kate Sessions brought this large growing pine to San Diego in the 19th century. Probably the most readily available living Christmas tree. Very pretty, but don’t let the little clipped tree in the pot fool you. Great tree, but wants to grow huge! Definitely not for tiny suburban lots.

Cupressus leylandii: very nice Christmas tree-became a part of screening on the property, but long term a poor choice in your landscape. Prone to fungal canker and is very short lived.

Pinus monophylla: Single leaf piñon, a Southwest native and source of delicious pine nuts. Our tree from three years ago. My favorite tree thus far. Very expensive because they are very slow growing, but what a tree! It also served as a memorial tree when my mother died. I planted it on my Julian property after Christmas.

Pinus heldreichii: Bosnian pine. Last year’s tree that I procured from Walter Andersen’s. It was a great tree. Should do well here. I planted it after Christmas in Julian.

Cupressus stephensonii: Cuyamaca cypress. If you can find a larger one in a pot…what a tree. One of the rarest trees in the world; only 40 left in its native range, from the southwest slope of Mt. Cuyamaca. A drought tolerant and gorgeous tree in maturity.

Pinus pinea: Italian Stone Pine. A solid Christmas tree, but be forewarned, gets huge in the garden. A large round topped pine and the source of pine nuts. Needs lots of room.

Cupressus forbesii: Tecate cypress. A wonderful native tree endemic to little more than the area around Tecate and Otay mountain. It makes a great living Christmas tree. As a hedge alternative they are a top choice by me. Underused in our landscapes.

The vintage photo of the day is an old advertisement for Nelson's Pine Patch in Chula Vista from the early 70’s. Notice, no mention of the yet to be built 805 freeway. The prices are a little different these days. Enjoy the holiday season!


John Clements was the SDHS Horticulturist of the Year for 2022.

John has been a horticultural professional for 46 years. He is a former nursery owner, gardener and koi pond builder to the rich and famous, horticulturalist, commercial fruit tree farmer, and he is a garden writer, agricultural historian, co-administrator of the San Diego Gardener Facebook group, and Director of Gardens at the 37-acre San Diego Botanic Garden.

If you enjoyed reading this article, consider joining (or renewing your membership with) the San Diego Horticultural Society.
SD Horticulture



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