Harmony in the Garden Blog

The Great Christmas Tree Chop

 Note:  This post is rated ‘R’ for violence

Sometimes it seems my family lives to torment me – especially when it comes to choosing Christmas trees.

It wasn’t always be this way.  But one year, when the kids were young, I decided to surprise everyone by bringing home a beautiful living Christmas tree, in hopes that a new family tradition would be born.  I imagined the year-round delight the kids would experience as they nourished our little tree throughout the year, excitedly noting each inch of new growth.

Yeah, right.  What I got in return was lots of tears.  And a new nickname – ‘Grinch Mama’.  Why?  Because the tightly packed needles of the Dwarf Alberta Spruce that I had bought made it virtually impossible to properly hang their favorite oversized ornaments.  Because the largest sized living tree I could find was only about 3 feet high. Because it didn’t have that freshly cut Christmas-tree-smell.  But most of all it was because I ruined an outing with their dad that they looked forward to year after year.

I used to go on these outings, driving the winding hills of Santa Cruz (usually in a drizzling fog so thick  you need a chainsaw to cut through it), but I never really enjoyed the process of cutting down a live tree.  They say if you cut it down the right way, by leaving a few branches at the bottom,  it’ll grow back into another healthy tree.  And I’m sure it does.  But the fact remains that I just don’t enjoy the outing.  So instead, I now stay home and make a delicious lunch for everyone while the three of them go off and bring home the bounty.

Now that my homesick daughter is a freshman in college, she’s looking forward to coming home more than anything right now.  Traditions are hugely important to her, more so now than ever before.  So in an effort to squash any thoughts I might have about surprising her with a living Christmas tree, she and my husband decided to send me this warning shot (above).  Message received.

However, I did ask that they at least go to an organic Christmas tree farm (preferably nearby Black Roads Farm) to commit their heinous crime.  And guess what – they say okay!  While I may have lost the war, at least I won the battle, right?

I’m curious how many of you prefer living Christmas trees to those you buy or (gasp) chop?

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  • Christmas tree farms are not the answer. They are the equivalent of a corn field, only worse because the land they grow on cannot be salvaged – visit the Oregon Garden in Silverton, OR to see the result of an abandoned tree farm. It is a real eye-opener.

    The best thing one can do is to get a Norfolk Island Pine. They make excellent house plants and will grow as tall as the ceiling in just a few years. My aunt had one that was lush and beautiful growing in a den with a normal amount of light coming from a large window. Mine had to be trimmed after it reached the ceiling, but the top grows back. I have two smaller ones that I bought last year to eventually take the place of the older one. All three are like members of the family and I wouldn’t dream of cutting down a live tree.

  • Marry Christmas to you Rebeca and to all of you “mud” gardeners! My best wishes for a happy & healthy Christmas & New year! I wish I had minus temperature, but 35+ Christmas & a real tree don’t go well!

  • Our tree takes up no space yet is the focal point of the living room from Thanksgiving through New Year’s. It cost nothing and is a decades-old tradition my family looks forward to. No trees were sacrificed, no needles imbedded in the carpet, no carcass to haul away for recycling, and it’s made of 100% repurposed materials. Do I miss having real tree…uh…no. And when friends give me ornaments, I put them in a pretty bowl that serves as a table centerpiece.

    Well, shoot, I can’t seem to add a photo to this post. So here’s a link to a photo of it on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/debra.l.baldwin

  • I keep dreaming about getting a tree like my folks were so proud of when I was growing up… it was silver with shiny ornaments. That’s not the best part though, they also had a lighted color wheel so when the tree rotated it was awash with color! Now those were the days, my friend.
    Alas, a cut tree always graces our home. It’s strong enough to hold years full of ornaments and memories, and it generally smells good for a few days. Life would be perfect if it came with someone to sweep up the needles a month later when it goes outside for recycling, but heck, who needs perfection? HOHOHO, Merry Christmas!

    • Oh wow, Sheila, a rotating tree PLUS a color wheel? You were livin’ the dream, weren’t you! My husband would’ve loved it as his favorite string of lights are the ones that have a control mechanism that lets us choose between migraine-inducing speed-of-light flashing all the down to a gentle, pulsating color show. I’m forever fiddling with it to have it remain constant, but the second I turn my back someone’s amped it up again. Living trees are so messy, aren’t they? I’m forever sweeping my home, picking them out of my hair (hey – it happens when you have giant hair like I do!) and out of my dog’s fur. Merry Christmas to you, too!

      • I love that Christmas is filled with our own versions of magic. My husband heard me wax on about bubble lights in our courtship. (My family had bubble lights before ‘The Tree.’ ) Jim has made sure we have had bubble lights ever since… 40 years later, he’s a keeper.
        BTW, next time around, I’m gonna have your hair… even though I’ll have to rake the pine needles out of it every December. Worth it!

  • I made my own tree this year…
    We have done the dwarf spruce living trees, but you really should only have that in the house for a week maximum in order to not stress the little darling. Their small stature was really dwarfed in our high ceiling house, so this year, I wanted something uber-slim but rather tall.
    I took 3 tomato cages, flipped them upside down & tied them together to form the tall narrow skeleton. I then found the greenery in the ditch across the road (we had trees topped this year to allow for more sunlight in the afternoon & they dumped the tops in the ditch). I cut the cedar boughs into smaller lengths, made bundles & tied them to the cage, starting at the bottom & working my way up.
    If you jump over to my blog (bamfieldgreenthumb.blogspot.ca) you can see a few photos of my Christmas Craft Challenge. I heard comments from my neighbours that it was a cross between Dr. Seuss & Charlie Brown… 🙂
    Exactly what I wanted & I didn’t have to cut down a tree!
    Maybe next year I’ll keep my eye out for a Japanese cypress & gift it to the hubby who really wants one in the yard.

    • Michelle – your tree is adorable! (I tried to leave a comment on your blog, but it’s not allowing me for whatever reason). Such a clever idea, too. Thank you so much for sharing it with me!

  • Your post brings back happy memories of when we used to make that trek up into the mountains towards Santa Cruz to cut down our tree nearly half a decade ago. I tried to continue the tradition with my kids in the Midwest amid many complaints about how cold it was and how long it was taking Dad to cut down the tree.
    Does anyone remember visiting Santa’s Village, the Christmas amusement park up in the mountains that was a great treat anytime of year, especially when Disneyland and Marineland once seemed so very far away in southern California?

    • Ohmygosh – I haven’t thought about Santa’s Village in years! Yes, I definitely remember that place with fond memories of fishing in their over-stocked pond. Do you remember that? They’d load it up with fish and all you’d have to do is cast a line in to catch one within seconds. It was a magical experience for a little kid.

      • Love the card your daughter and husband created. Enjoy your visit with your daughter. I remember how wonderful it was to discover how many of the family traditions the kids cherished when they come home from school for the holidays. Thanks for sharing the holiday cheer!

        • Thanks, Sue – glad you enjoyed my ‘card’. ha! And yes, she comes home tonight and I don’t know which of us is more excited.

  • I prefer a cut tree – how many living trees can you grow in your yard?

    I grew up with an artificial tree but when my husband & I were dating & first married we would go cut a tree on his parents farm. Which was fine, many of them needed to be cut anyway. In some parts of the country some evergreens are invasive & they drink up all the water supply so it wasn’t bad to cut them. We’ve bought cut trees as well & I loved those too. But for about 15 yrs now I’ve used an artificial tree because my son is allergic to live/cut ones.

    • That’s the good thing about artificial trees for those who have allergies. And luckily, in my area there’s a few pesticide-free tree farms which help a lot of people as well. My garden isn’t a large one, and I don’t know where’d I keep a living tree even if it stays planted in a container. Plus, watering is an issue as well. One week of neglect during our hot, hot summers can cause serious problems for these trees.

  • Hello Rebecca, loved the story and photo, very funny and sad at same time. We tried the cutting, then stopped, then a live tree, which is planted in our garden. For many years now, have artificial trees, that we pack away…can’t bring ourselves to cut a living tree!! And yes father and I would go to the Christmas tree farm in Sebastopol when I was younger.

    Have a great day.


    • Hi Sabrina – next time I’m visiting your garden you’ll have to show me your living Christmas tree!

  • The problem with living Christmas trees is that they outgrow their pots and one has to find a place for them. A previous owner of my house planted them at random around the yard. All but one have to come out. If only she’d planted them along the back lot line to screen the city facility behind us!

    • I agree, Deirdre. Luckily, I gave my living Christmas tree to a client who had plenty of room in her garden but in my own? No Way! I’m sorry yours weren’t used to screen the city facility – that would’ve been perfect, wouldn’t it? sigh…

  • I love living Christmas trees, and I wish I had a million acres to plant them all. The National Forest service sells Christmas tree permits, so we drive up into the mountains to get ours. I like to think it’s helping the other trees, since people are slowly thinning the small trees out and letting the big trees grow.

  • We also have the cut-our-own-tree tradition, because I like to keep a tree up through tto Epiphany and want it as fresh as possible–and we need a pretty big tree for our lights, ornaments, and presents underneath. But we always get them from a local tree farm, Marmion Abbey–the monks do a great job with their trees. And one year when we were going to be traveling over Christmas, I got a 2 ft Norfolk Island pine [which is so soft we could only use the tiniest ornaments or origami ones] and last year, when we were also going to be away for a while over Christmas, we decorated the largish potted hibiscus bush that comes inside every winter, and had an official Christmas hibiscus–it even flowered a bit for us!

    • Hi Susan – I had so much fun reading about Marmion Abbey and their Christmas tree farm. What a great place you go to. I’d definitely go there, as well – love it!


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