Evergreens instill a cozy feeling of comfort and security in winter. Their color and fragrance has lifted spirits from earliest times when days grew short and the nights grew long. When many trees lost their leaves and the weather became bitter, the evergreens that stayed green all winter provided assurance of better days ahead.
In the United States both the religious and secular worlds have made evergreens, in branch and tree form, icons for the winter season. Whether called a Holiday Tree, Christmas Tree, Hanukkah Bush, or Saturnalia Shrub, fresh evergreens (and their plastic relatives) are found everywhere
from Halloween to Groundhog Day.
When buying evergreens, fresher is better. Make sure the foliage is a healthy green and pliable. To check for freshness, pick up the tree or branches and give them a good, hard shake. Avoid greenery that sheds a lot or has brown tips.
Many decorations can be created with fresh greens. Ready-made plain wreaths and garlands are readily available. Personal touches can be added.
When harvesting live greenery from your shrubs and trees, remember that you are actually pruning the plants. Cut carefully to keep the shape of the plants. Before using the greens, wash them off to get rid of dust and bugs and let them soak a while to rehydrate.
Evergreens That Do Better Indoors
White Pine: This soft, bluish-green, long-needled pine has excellent needle retention but wilts badly if it dries out. Junipers: Fragrant, short, green or silver-blue foliage that may have small blue berries. Red cedar is a native juniper. Firs: Fragrant and tolerant of hot, dry conditions. The needles do not shed.
Evergreens to Consider For Short-Time Use Indoors
Arborvitae: Flat fan-like foliage, good for contrast and texture. Blue Spruce: Beautiful, but drops its needles fast. Hemlocks: Beautiful but poor needle retention and their delicate branches can’t support heavy ornaments. Yew: Handsome green, but dries up very fast indoors.
Before going to buy or cut a tree, measure the spot for it indoors (height and width). Trees that look tiny outdoors may actually be too big inside.
Those buying a live tree should dig a hole ahead of time. The tree should be kept cold, and spend no longer than two days in heated room.
A live tree to keep indoors year-round is the Norfolk Island pine. It is available in many sizes and can grow indoors for years.
Families can cut their own Christmas tree for old fashioned fun. Marmion Abbey on Butterfield Road near North Aurora has acres of trees and help available 9 a.m. to dusk. Tree sales support monks’ schools in Guatemala. For more information, call 630-897-6936.
Afterwards: Decorate trees with suet to feed birds; use branches to protect plants from soil freezing and thawing.