It’s the scent, I think, that draws me to real trees. It reaches you the moment you open the front door. The lights might not yet be on, but Christmas hangs in the air and leads you in from the cold.
We would always have leaned towards getting real Christmas trees. Perhaps because we both grew up with them. And fake trees have always struck me as just a little sad; somehow managing to be both a shadow of and a more brash version of the original. But that is just my perception, formed from the sense that our lifelong habit must be the right one.
And there is an annual debate about that is the ‘right one’, environmentally speaking. It seems the answers are similar to others in this debate: try to keep the one you have in use as long as possible; if buying new, buy quality and organic. So potted trees are the eventual way forward.
If you can keep them alive that is. Since we got our first garden, we have been trying. And this year, we’re celebrating the fact that we will finally welcoming one back into the house for its second Christmas season. A miracle, of sorts!
Here’s how we managed it*:
- Fail several years in a row. Name each tree (Sylvia, Neville, Hector…) and mourn their subsequent passing (into the compost heap).
- Go small. You might want to fill your living room with the biggest tree possible, but a smaller tree will be easier to care for – and therefore more likely to survive. Pop your smaller tree on a box (covered with red fabric, newspaper…) and your room will still feel suitably festive – maybe even more so as if you put the money you’ve saved into mulled wine supplies.
- Follow the watering instructions over your first Christmas together. The less damage you can cause during this period, the better your long term prospects will be.
- Once January arrives, deposit your tree outside and box the decorations for the following year. You may at this point – because the garden is not yet back on your radar – forget about the tree for a month or so. It’ll probably be fine.
- Come early Spring, replant your Christmas tree into a bigger pot. Forget about drainage holes (a combination of being out of the gardening game for several months and a tenuous thought that this might help survive heatwave weather). This will come back to bite you, but not too hard.
- Find the right spot for your tree to spend the months until December. At this point remind yourself of what happened last year. Poor Sylvia, planted in pride of place in the middle of the flowerbed. Until there was a heatwave that is. And then both of you had to endure her indignity as a dried up centre piece in full view of your garden bench. This time, find a sheltered spot tucked in a corner for your tree to hide out during the summer months, and stick to an abundance of wallflowers for your bench view.
- Obsessively pour water over the roots of your tree during the summer months. One day, examine it further and realise that it is basically resting in a small pond – the result of your overwatering habit, attempts not to get too close to the sharp pines and that lack of drainage holes. Admit that this might be contributing to parts of the tree failing not quite thriving. Dig it out and let the root ball dry (pouring the excess water onto thirstier plants), and go again.
- Cut off any brown bits with secateurs. They won’t regrow along the branch, and you don’t want green tips on the end of what are essentially sticks. There is no shame in this. All you need is one decent side and the rest of the tree will be pressed against the window anyway.
- Make it until September and celebrate that the tree has passed through its hottest trials. Begin to neglect it again. It will probably be alright.
- December has arrived. If you have spray, de-bug the tree for re-entry into your home; if not take the calculated risk anyway… Decorate it (charity shops make for good second hand options, which we’ve supplemented with a few homemade and gifted decorations). Heat up a mince pie and admire the view.
Incidentally, this is the first time I’ve lost the name of our tree, somewhere along the year. Make of that what you will.
Happy holidays all.
* based solely on our limited, UK-based experience. Amend for your geography as needed.