Festive pines: garden plants of the month for December

Green throughout the year, and particularly significant in the run-up to Christmas: the spruce and fir tree help create a variety-filled patio and garden.

A forest full of personalities
Oh Christmas tree, how … versatile, beautifully green and distinctive are your branches. Naturally the spruce and fir tree are the real trendsetters in December, but don’t overlook what they can offer during the rest of the year in terms of greenery and interesting points of focus. The range is extensive, and every pine tree has its own personality. Hence there are species that look like they’ve come straight from a Japanese garden, interesting silhouettes with hanging branches for a bit of theatre on the patio, and beautiful full fir trees with a bluish grey tone that lights up beautifully in the moonlight. Even without decorations or fairylights they already look stunning, and you get to enjoy them in the summer as well.

December duo
Spruce (Picea) is officially a hardy needle conifer, but looks like a true pine tree, often complete with cones below the branches. It can have a classic pine shape, with layered branches that stand around the stem like a wreath, but it can also be spherical, trained as a pyramid or beautifully chilled with hanging branches. 

Fir tree (Abies) has long, flat needles. The colour is greyish green, sometimes with a silvery tone. The fir tree has cones on the branches that partly fall apart, leaving the core standing. Depending on the species it can grow in a narrow pillar shape or in a classic Christmas tree form.

Telling them apart
When people talk about a Christmas tree, it might be a pine tree or a spruce or fir. A pine tree has long soft needles, and bears pine cones as fruit. A spruce or fir has short, hard needles and fir cones. An easy way to differentiate: if there’s a single needle growing out of the branch, it’s a spruce or fir (‘single’ with an S for spruce). If there are a pair growing from the same spot, it’s a pine tree (‘pair’ with a P for pine). 

Spruce or fir tree?
With spruce part of the bark comes away when a needle is pulled off. So spruces always have a flag on the loose needle. That is not the case with fir tree, where the needle’s fixing point resembles a suction pad.

3 reasons for picking a festive pine

  • Spruces and fir trees instantly make a winter garden greener and more beautiful.
  • You can also enjoy the elegant greenery throughout the rest of the year.
  • Spruces and fir trees combine beautifully with November’s Red Classics.

“Freshly cut Christmas trees smelling of stars and snow and pine resin – inhale deeply and fill your soul with wintry night.”
John Geddes – A Familiar Rain

Sustainable in December
If you want to celebrate Christmas with your spruce or fir for years to come, make sure that your tree has a substantial root ball when you buy it. If it’s going to be indoors for a while, place it in a pot with water and shrub food so that it suffers as little as possible from the dry indoor climate. To ensure that the transition is not too dramatic, only put it outside during a frost-free period. Planting it nice and deep and pampering it with some extra water and food will help ensure that a spruce or fir tree roots happily in the garden.  

Stylish Christmas patio
Mix up different species and sizes of spruce and fir tree so that the different shapes contrast nicely. The container can be understated: brown, black or grey emphasise the natural aspect of the trees and makes them look extra green. These colours also fit with the style trend in which restraint and clarity in the garden are important. With individual spruces and firs trees you can easily add November’s Red Classics as Christmas approaches to create a festive look. And in January you can quickly and easily prepare them for the start of 2020 with plants such as white grape hyacinths, snowdrops, hyacinths and Helleborus.

Why are pine trees so closely associated with December?
That comes from ancient Germanic traditions. Festive pines are the only trees that stay green in the winter. Centuries ago the Germanic people displayed a green tree during midwinter (the shortest day of the year), often in the middle of their settlement. This was then decorated with dried apples and chains made of straw and dried flowers. The green tree was a reminder that the days would get longer from that point on and that spring was on its way. The need for greenery in December is so ingrained and goes so far back that Christianity smoothly absorbed the heathen traditions into the celebration of Christmas. Just to be clear: whatever happened in Bethlehem, it did not involve a pine tree.