Text by P. Allen Smith | Photography by Mark Fonville
Starting out in the retail nursery business, I looked forward to the scent of fresh evergreens in the greenhouses when the cut Christmas trees were delivered. The sharp, familiar aroma always filled me with holiday spirit.
That spirit predates me by centuries. That’s right! If you’ve never stopped to ponder the history of the Christmas tree, here’s a little snippet. It’s a tradition that may have originated in the Middle Ages. Back then, it was called the “Paradise Tree,” and it was ornamented with red apples as a symbol of the Feast of Adam and Eve. This holiday was celebrated on Dec. 24.
Later, lights would adorn the trees, and as the world expanded, the modern-day Christmas tree tradition spread from Germany across the pond to the States. Before 1950, families would head to the forest to select a tree to decorate, but today, more than 90 percent of Christmas trees are grown and harvested from farms. Typically, these farms will plant two trees for every one that’s cut down, making Christmas trees a renewable resource.
The tradition of decorating with greenery often includes boughs of holly, boxwood and magnolia. Something about clipping little bits of nature and bringing them inside feels so festive! I can easily get carried away, but if you’re not sure where to start, try adding garland down a staircase or wreaths to shutters, doors and gates. Just use your imagination and have fun!
No matter where you place them, it’s important to keep your live decorations healthy throughout the season, which requires proper care and maintenance. Follow these tips and your greenery will retain its freshness as long as possible.
Caring for live trees
First, re-cut the trunk as soon as you get it home. If you’re not ready to put it in the stand immediately, just set it into a bucket of water.
A fresh-cut tree can drink up to a gallon of water the first 24 hours after you bring it in and several quarts after that. Be sure to keep it well hydrated to avoid having it dry out.
Keep your tree away from heat sources such as vents and fireplaces to avoid fire hazards, but also because heat will dry it out. Bear in mind that the lights on a tree are also a source of heat. The longer you leave them on, the quicker your tree will become dry. It’s always a must to unplug them if you’re going to be away or before you go to bed.
Caring for live greenery
Once your greenery—boughs of Eastern Red Cedar, arborvitae, mistletoe or other greenery—is cut and brought inside, it will begin to dry, so, it’s all about retaining moisture in the foliage. Try these steps for best results:
To add extra hydration, recut the stems and soak the greenery in water overnight. You can do this with cut boughs, garlands and wreaths in a galvanized tub or bathtub. Add glycerin to the water. This will keep the needles soft and pliable. Be generous, using one part glycerin to one part water. You can pick up glycerin at your local drug store.
An additional way to keep moisture in the foliage is to spray the greenery with an anti-transpirant. This solution is available at garden centers. It will hold the moisture in and make your greenery look fresh throughout the holidays.
If you’d like to see these practices in person or find even more holiday inspiration, take a holiday tour of Moss Mountain Farm. See pallensmith.com/tours to reserve your spot or call 501.519.5793.
P. Allen Smith, an author, television host and conservationist, is one of America’s most recognized garden experts. His show Garden Home airs on WKNO and AETN2. You can watch Garden Style on KAIT and KPMF. Smith uses his Arkansas home, Moss Mountain Farm, as an epicenter for promoting the local food movement, organic gardening and the preservation of heritage poultry breeds. He created his farm to serve as a place of inspiration, education and conservation and provides visitors from around the country with tours of his property, which may be booked at pallensmith.com/tours.