Short-Lived Christmas Trees & Long-Lasting Christmas Gifts

San Antonio Express News
Sunday, December 4, 2005

By Dr. Jerry Parsons

Christmas tree clip artThanksgiving has passed and preparation for Christmas is in full swing. This means that much will be written and spoken about care and culture of poinsettias and Christmas trees. I have logged numerous articles about taking care of poinsettias and cut Christmas trees on at: and The latter URL contains the famous Parsons’ Ice Cube Watering technique for poinsettias as perfected by Jeremy Parsons. All of that will be reinvented and restated in the weeks to come.

You may have noticed I have never written a column about the best living Christmas trees for this area. The reason is my embarrassment over a terrible recommendation which I helped promote 16 years ago on March 11, 1989. I, along with the County Extension horticulturist at that time, recommended the planting of Eldarica (Afghan) pines as living Christmas trees for this area’s alkaline soils. Even the publications from Texas A&M such as: suggested we should plant Eldaricas in alkaline soils and Virginia pines in the sand. Time has proven this to be a horrible recommendation because only after 10 years, when the tree is large and expensive to remove, does it begin to deteriorate and eventually dies. Mark Peterson, Texas Forest Service Regional Urban Forester writes: “In Central Texas, the major problem with Afghan pines is that people over water and over fertilize. Because Afghans grow in approximately 20 inches of annual rainfall, or approximately two-thirds of this area’s rainfall, they never need to be watered here. Therefore, I tell people who want to grow Afghan pines to find the hottest, driest place, water twice after planting, and then never water again, especially by a sprinkler. The quickest way to kill an Afghan is to irrigate and grow grass next to them. If your Afghan pine is dying from the base up and inside out on the branches, then it probably has Diplodia pinea and it is a “goner.”
I have been told that Peterson has become unhinged at times and has recommended both Ashe juniper and various yuccas as living Christmas trees. However, these “fits” were after long visitations with Paul Cox.

Some nurseries are providing a public service by not selling Afghan (Eldarica) pines-they are to be commended. Let’s encourage ALL nurseries in this area to follow this one nursery’s example. If you want to purchase a living container-grown Christmas tree for your landscape, choose from Italian Stone Pine, Deodar Cedar, Aleppo Pine, and Blue Point Juniper ONLY!! Arizona Cypress is also recommended, but is difficult to sell as a small Christmas tree because of its poor form in containers.

For your reading enjoyment of the worst plant recommendation I ever made, I have posted the original column which was published in the San Antonio Light newspaper on March 11, 1989. Since making this blunder, I have stayed away from recommending trees and shrubs without at least 100 years of testing. That list which has done well in this area for over a century can be found at: If you decide to try something which is not on this list—-all I can say is “May God have Mercy on your soul!” You can read the 1989 column in the first column for December entitled: “Short-lived Christmas Trees and Long-Lasting Christmas Gifts” at: Now that my confession is out of the way, let us discuss Christmas gifts which keep on giving. I have listed seven gifts which are perfect for most people-of-the-soil at:

All of these gifts are not plant related. The plant related items include: a listing of recommended horticulture books; a listing of the best two horticultural magazines (Neil Sperry’s Gardens Magazine and Texas’ Gardener Magazine) in the state; and beautiful wildflower and nature photos taken by one of Texas’ most talented photographers, Joe Lowery. The non-horticulture gift ideas include old-fashioned salt-cured hams; venison for urbanites who want to know what they are missing by not harvesting the deer population in their neighborhood; and DVD’s of the world’s greatest exhibition shooters — one of which was Adolph Toepperwein who was a San Antonio native, worked as a cartoonist for the San Antonio Daily Express (Express-News), and was the greatest shot of all time. See: So let’s enjoy Christmas this year and for years to come by buying living Christmas trees which will actually live and giving Christmas presents which will truly be enjoyed.

Dr. Jerry Parsons is a Professor for Texas A&M University and a Texas Cooperative Extension Horticulturist for over 30 years in South Central Texas. For more information on this or other horticulture topics, go to and our County Extension website at EVENTS: Saturdays, December 3, 10, 17, Bexar County Master Gardeners Plant Clinic: Bring your questions and “talk plants,” Hill Country Cottage – Water Saver Lane, San Antonio Botanical Garden, 555 Funston Place, 9:00 am – 3:00 pm.

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