Some of the best Christmas trees are not the ones you find at a tree lot. They are the conifers (evergreens with needles) growing in yards and parks. These trees do not need lights and ornaments because they are naturally beautiful.
One of these is the Alaska Falsecypress or Nootka Falsecypress. Its scientific name, Chamaecyparis nootkatensis, is quite a mouthful. It is native to Alaska and the Pacific Northwest. The scale-like needles are deep green and give off a reportedly “rank” odor when crushed. Chamaecyparis nootkatensis ‘Pendula’, a weeping form of the Alaska Falsecypress, is commonly available for landscape planting. In my opinion, it is one of the most beautiful evergreen trees around.
‘Weeping Alaska Falsecypress’ grows best in regions with moist climates and high humidity. However, they seem to do fairly well in our area if they are provided with adequate water and planted in sites where they are not exposed to high heat and intense sunlight. This tree’s main drawback is its potential mature size of 45 to 50 feet tall and 20 feet wide, making it too big for most home landscapes.
A better fit might be other cultivated varieties, such as ‘Van den Akker’ that grows about 15 feet tall and 10 feet wide. However, it is a very narrow tree that does not have the majestic form of ‘Pendula.’ Another cultivar that more closely resembles ‘Pendula’ is ‘Jubilee.’ It grows 25 feet tall and 12 feet wide. Yet another is ‘Glauca Pendula’ that grows 20 to 30 feet tall and has strongly weeping branches with blue-green needles.
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The Eastern White pine (Pinus strobus) is my favorite pine tree. It is native to the northeastern and central regions of the U.S. I like it because its 4-inche long, thin needles give the tree a soft, fine textured appearance. While the species grows to a mammoth height of 80 feet, there are smaller cultivars that are better suited for home landscapes. Unfortunately, Eastern White pines are intolerant of alkaline soils, dry soil and heat. They do not grow well in our region.
Without the gorgeous white pines of the east, I have had to console myself with the handsome Bosnian pine (Pinus heldreichii). I like it because it has dark green needles, slow growth and a dense pyramidal form. Unlike so many other tall pines, it does not become extremely leggy with age. It can reach a height of 70 feet or more, but it typically reaches between 20 and 35 feet in the landscape.
Native to southern Europe, the Bosnian pine is tolerant of alkaline and sandy soils. It supposedly dislikes heat, but it seems to thrive in our region if given sufficient water. Bosnian pines are great as specimen trees or for use in screens or windbreaks. I have a Bosnian pine planted in my front yard as a specimen tree.
There are several different cultivated varieties of Bosnian pine, such as ‘Compact Gem’ that is a dwarf columnar tree that grows to a height of only 8 to 10 feet high and 4 to 6 wide. ‘Schmidtii’ is another variety that grows only an inch or two in one year and eventually grows into a 1- to 2-foot tall and wide mounded shrub.
I am so glad to have a real Christmas tree sitting in my front yard all year long instead of inside the house for just a few weeks during the holidays. If you do not have an evergreen tree in your yard, start doing your research now to determine which one you would like to plant. Find out at the local nurseries which ones will work the best in your landscape, and then plant your real Christmas tree outdoors early next spring.
Marianne C. Ophardt is a retired horticulturist for Washington State University Benton County Extension.