Living Christmas Trees

When it comes to cut Christmas trees, the choices are usually pine, spruce, or fir.  But, if you want a living Christmas tree for our area, the choice is narrowed to pines.  Well, there are also miniature “trees” sculpted out of rosemary, but let’s look at the big trees. 

Selecting a living Christmas tree is a tough task.  Trees grow.  Some grow to over 60 feet tall, with a 30-foot spread.  It is critical to choose a tree that will fit your space, especially if you have a small patio, or attractive views you may not wish to block.

Second.  Evergreens remain green, but that doesn’t mean that individual needles stay on the trees for a century.  Pines shed their needles and grow new ones.  The needles make a wonderful mulch around the tree, conserving moisture, and returning vital nutrients to the soil.  However this “mulch” can be irritating when it drops into your pool or your drinks as you relax on the patio.  Plan your planting with mulch in mind.

Now to your choices.

Aleppo pine (Pinus halepensis).  From the Mediterranean region, it can take the heat, and even heavy caliche soils of our area.  Moderate to rapid growth.  Reaches about 60 feet tall and around 30 feet in diameter (60’ X 30’) with a round-topped, open, billowy mature form.  This provides lookout places for owls and hawks, a rare treat in an urban yard.  

Canary Island pine (Pinus canariensis), from the Canary Islands is not overly fond of very hot sites, or freezing winters.  That said, it is a good choice if you have sandy soils.  Moderate growth to 60 by 30 feet with a rounded form like the Aleppo pine.

One of the most commonly offered “living Christmas tree” is the elder pine, also called Afghan or Goldwater pine (Pinus eldarica), is a lovely, fast-growing pine reaching 70 by 30 feet with a pyramidal form.

Longleaf pine or Chir pine (Pinus roxburghii), also features long needles, and grows slowly to 50 by 30 feet with a rounded form.  It prefers sandy, well-drained soil.

For an edible landscape, consider the pinyon pine (Pinus edulis). A small, slow-growing pine, it reaches 20-by-20 feet and likes cooler locations like Catalina or Saddlebrooke.

Single-leaf pinyon pine (Pinus monophylla) is another choice for the cooler areas.  Slowly growing to reach 20-by-25 feet with a rounded form, it also has edible seeds.  

Stone pine, or Italian stone pine (Pinus pinea), is a slower growing pine with long, elegant needles.  It reaches 60-by-25 feet with a flat-topped, umbrella-like form.  This is the source of most of the “pine nuts” you find in stores. 

Growing up in Tucson, we three kids had three Aleppo pines planted in the corner of the back yard.  Trees and wall made a little secret place.  It was a wonderful shady hide-out, a place to play all manner of imaginary games.  Later, as they grew, the trees were super to climb.  Living holiday trees can hold the memory of happy holidays, plus provide so much more – for years to come.

The landscape around your home can be a pleasureful space with lush, desert-adapted plants.  To find out which plants to use and where, call for a private “garden coaching” consultation.  Contact me at 909-3474, and feel free to leave a voice message. For more information, visit

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