Arizona Cypress (Cupressus arizonica), Sand Pine (Pinus clausa), Leyland Cypress (Cupressocyparis leylandii), Virginia Pine (Pinus virginiana) and Red Cedar (Juniperus silicicola or Juniperus virginiana) — for example!
I was talking to my buddy J.W. and asked him about Florida Christmas trees. J.W. was born and raised in Florida and is a veteran of more than a couple seasons working the Christmas tree lots, so I thought he might know a little about them.
J.W. cocked-up his left eyebrow, gave me a quizzical look, and confidently announced, “They don’t grow Christmas trees in Florida”!
His quick and sure answer came as no surprise to me. Growing up in South Florida during the 1970’s, it was kind of expensive to buy a real tree (since they had to be trucked in from “up north”). The money saved on a real tree went towards having a wonderful Christmas Eve dinner with family and friends. For many years we dragged the tree-box down from the attic and put together our plastic, wood and steel-wire tree. It was not until the late 1980’s that we had a real Christmas tree fresh cut from a tree farm. At that time my family and I were living in Volusia County and I discovered a little tree farm outside of Deltona where we chose and cut our own trees. Our favorite was the Sand Pine because they tended to be big, bushy “bear trees” which smelled of tangerines and pine.
Many Florida natives and transplants alike do not know that Florida has about 17 small “choose ‘n cut” Christmas tree farms that are members of the Florida Christmas Tree Association.Florida Christmas Tree Association
The number of Christmas tree growers in Florida has declined over the years as older farmers retire and their children lose interest in the farms. Increasing taxes and land values have taken their toll as has the fact that tree farming is hard work that returns little profit. It takes at least three to six years for a tree started from seed to grow into a six-foot-tall Christmas tree. During that time the trees must be watered, fertilized, sprayed with fungicides and insecticides, trimmed into the pyramidal Christmas tree shape and the plots around each tree kept clear of weeds, brush and vines that might hinder their growth.
Conifers most popular for growing on Florida Christmas tree farms are the Arizona Cypress (Cupressus arizonica), Sand Pine (Pinus clausa), Leyland Cypress (Cupressocyparis leylandii), Virginia Pine (Pinus virginiana) and Red Cedar (Juniperus silicicola or Juniperus virginiana). Of these trees the Red Cedar has been used for hundreds of year by Florida pioneers as their Christmas tree of choice. Reasons being that the Red Cedar grew in forests throughout Florida and grows naturally into a Christmas tree shape.
Unfortunately, times have changed. More development means fewer forests and less places for Red Cedar to grow naturally. It has also become difficult to buy potted Red Cedar from nurseries throughout the state because demand has grown for them in the last few years since landscaping with native Florida plants has come into vogue.
But, if you desire a live Christmas tree which you would like to later plant on your estate, Red Cedar is the tree to choose. Red Cedar:
- Grows in Zones 8-10
- Is a native
- Attracts birds
- Has high salt tolerance
- Grows in most soils (except those that are very wet)
- Is drought tolerant once established
- Grows in partial shade to full sun
- Is fairly resistant to pests.
This fragrant tree is a favorite for windbreaks, screens, and wildlife-cover for large-scale landscapes. Mature height is to 45 feet with a spread to 30 feet.