" ... How lovely are your branches”! Well, maybe they don’t all look the same; just think of the special joy reserved just for the Charlie Brown Christmas tree ! But, about evergreens in general, what do we know?
Most evergreens have persistent foliage through the seasons, replace needles or leaves gradually over time not determined by seasonal schedules, have a slightly waxy coating to retain moisture, continuously photosynthesize, sequester carbon and build biomass throughout the year. These wonderful specimens are very good at scrubbing air pollutants and surviving awkward soil conditions.
Christmas trees are typically spruce, red cedar, fir or pine; they come in lots of different varieties. They can be cut from a tree farm or balled and taken home live from a nursery or farm. It’s hard to plant a live tree that will survive in wintertime, so some folks decorate a strategically placed living tree in their yard for themselves and the neighbors to see. The longstanding tradition of the cut tree brings great joy in the family tagging, fresh cutting, placement and decoration. This is an economically and environmentally sustainable practice if the grower regrows, thus keeping biomass constantly in production. Further, after Christmas, the tree should be recycled for mulch or used as part of a soil or dune erosion stabilization program.
Now, concerning other evergreens, I must confess my fondness for the eastern red cedar, actually a juniper, that is generally tough and resilient in our area. Our coastal and bay towns, compromised soils and wildlife would be far worse off without this feisty native. It is versatile for yard usage, especially when interspersed with native shrubs like inkberry, beautyberry, winterberry, bayberry etc. We need to forego the invasive privet and barberry bushes, the non-native boxwood bushes and hedges in favor of species that are more advantageous for our local ecosystem.
A common decision regarding evergreens is in the creation of privacy screens and windbreaks. Please give the community a public service gift by removing and not buying any type of bamboo for any purpose. Make a plan for removing it into trash, not mulch or compost piles; and then monitor for culms (shoots) reappearing from the legacy of underground rhizomes. Bamboo provides no wildlife or beneficial pollinator value; instead, it inevitably damages your soil, yard plans, structures, neighbor relations and property values all around. If you need to build that dense privacy screen or to have a functioning windbreak, consider a staggered mix of natives like eastern red cedars and American hollies with creative understory native shrubs. As a last resort choice, if you are really pressed for space, use the American arborvitae, again mixing in more productive natives where possible. If tempted to use the non-native Leyland cypress, be forewarned about the size getting out of hand as well as disease problems.
Other evergreens or semi-evergreens to include in your most essential landscaping are eastern white pine, sweetbay magnolia, eastern hemlock, loblolly pine, red spruce, rhododendron maximum (great laurel), and others specific to your soil, sun, moisture, temperature and salinity conditions. If you are fortunate enough to have Atlantic white cedar or can successfully propagate it in the proper conditions, that is something special to protect and nurture. We have already lost so much Atlantic white cedar to rising sea levels bringing salt water further inland and upstream. This magnificent tree can’t tolerate the uptake of much salt water for more than a couple of days in a row. We need to help preserve them wherever we can.
When you look into the woods around you, evergreens pop more into view now, since the deciduous trees and bushes have dropped their leaves and gone dormant. The evergreen chugs on, photosynthesizing through those needles and leaves, still turning carbon into wood. Embrace the evergreens and also what’s evergreen in your life, especially at this time of year. Bring in some evergreen boughs to decorate your home and spirit. Enjoy your evergreen trees and shrubs whether inside or outside; and I hope that you will all have the best holiday season possible!
Go Green Galloway is a volunteer organization dedicated to reducing the carbon footprint of Galloway through the promotion of energy efficiency and conservation, environmental education and the implementation of sustainable practices. We always welcome new volunteer members. Contact us at email@example.com or call Mary at 609-742-7076. Also be sure to like our Facebook page.