Miniature Christmas trees from the grocery store

December 16, 2012 lawanda Newspaper Columns

This time of year just about every grocery, department and drug store features a beautiful display of live miniature Christmas trees as soon as you walk in the door. They are beautiful, healthy-looking trees and include Norfolk Island pines, various cypresses, holly and rosemary. After they’ve served their purpose as winter decoration, many people hope to plant them outdoors next spring. Most of these plants will not survive outdoors in Wisconsin, but a few of them might.
Norfolk Island is in the South Pacific between Australia and New Zealand – trees born there cannot handle Wisconsin winters. They do make wonderful houseplants though, if given proper conditions. A bright, cool location with daytime temperatures ranging from 60⁰-70⁰ with slightly cooler nighttime temps is ideal. A few hours of direct sunlight daily is best although they will survive with bright, indirect light. The plant will grow toward the light, so give it a quarter turn occasionally to keep it growing straight.
When the top inch of the soil feels dry, water the Norfolk pine thoroughly until water runs out the bottom of the pot. Do not allow the plant to sit in the drained water. There’s no need to fertilize in winter; during the growing season feed it with an indoor foliage plant food.
The challenge in growing Norfolk Island pines is lack of humidity indoors. They thrive at 50% humidity, but most homes have much lower indoor humidity in winter. A humidifier or daily misting will keep the plant much happier.
It is normal for a few needles on lower branches to turn brown and drop. If it becomes widespread, the problem may be too much or too little water, too hot or too cold temperature or too low humidity.
There are several different cypresses sold in stores for Christmas decorations. Few of them list their Latin names so it is hard to research whether or not they will survive our winters. Reading the tag might or might not help. Some tags say “hardy.” Some don’t say anything at all about cold hardiness. Both probably mean the plant won’t make it here. One cypress widely sold lists survival in USDA hardiness zones 5-8. That one might survive outdoors here. The tags also say that the needles may turn brown under the winter sun, and yes, they will. The tree will look dead, but the next year will green up just fine.
For the most part, the cypresses for sale in our local stores come from Florida or the Pacific Northwest. Even if labeled hardy for Wisconsin winters, they have never actually experienced one and cannot be counted on to survive.
The rosemary in the holiday displays can grow outdoors in summer but must be brought inside for winter. As for the hollies, with no Latin name listed, who knows?
I’m not saying you shouldn’t buy these gorgeous little trees. I’m just saying don’t count on them as part of your permanent outdoor landscape.

HouseplantsMiscellaneousTrees and Shrubs

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