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Alternative Trees

If you're allergic to that wonderful aromatic smell of evergreens (as I am), what do you do for a Christmas tree? I refuse to use something fake; I want the emotional lift of living green at this dim time of year. It's okay if it's little, but I want something like a tree.

The Norfolk Island pine, a native of tropical rainforests, is readily available as a houseplant, looks great and doesn't smell. However it must be misted, and if you overwater or underwater it, needles — and then whole branches, starting at the bottom — turn brown, fall off and don't regrow. I've killed more than one, and now prefer more forgiving houseplants.

Once an indoor ivy plant (Hedera), that I'd grown for a few years, got big enough to train on a three-foot tall wire topiary form in tree shape. This plant was much more versatile; it even tolerated going dry, as long as I didn't give it too much sun. I put it atop a 3-foot wooden stool that I draped with a red cloth, and hung tiny ornaments on it.

When I put it into the pot big enough to support the topiary form, I compacted the soil I added. I wanted to avoid having the soil settle so I'd have to keep adding more — as always seems to happen with commercial potting mixes. But the original soil the plant came in was loose. The ivy died; when I knocked it out of the pot, I could see that the roots never ventured out into the new, packed soil.

Thnking about the ivy naturally led my mind to holly (Oh, the holly and the ivy...); I called several nurseries, and found not only two-gallon potted outdoor plants (which I could bring back indoors if I put them in our unheated room for a week first), but also a few tiny indoor plants (that would be easier). I was all ready to go buy one, until I started thinking about my collection of miniature ornaments... hanging decorations is painful enough on a tree with bristly needles, but on a sharp-spined holly?

Maybe a boxwood: nice small rounded leaves, not particular about light, grows slowly, takes well to pruning. Several varieties are commonly grown as houseplants. Hmm, they want misting in temperatures above 65. Drat, I don't like to mist, mold makes my sinuses ache.

I should get another ivy, and do the soil right.

© Copyright 2002 Catherine Holmes Clark

Published in the six Nashoba Publishing papers on Friday, datex 2002
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The Norfolk Island pine in the photo belongs to my next-door neighbor Joan. It's 20 years old and almost eight feet tall.

For more information
  • Buxus spp. — information on growing box as Bonsai —