Tis the season to be jolly” and enjoy Florida’s fabulous weather and beautiful plant life! Many typical holiday plants can be enjoyed in your Florida yard long after the Christmas lights are put back in the attic.
I love to encourage people to get a living Christmas tree. This means to buy a tree that is in a pot and plant it in your yard after the holiday season. Trees that work well for this method are Florida Cedars, Arizona Cypress (sometimes called Carolina Sapphire) and Leyland Cypress. Keep in mind that the Leyland Cypress will only live 5-10 years in the landscape in this part of the state. The native cedars have the best chance of long term survival in your yard. Consider that the trees will grow to be very large, eventually.
I have gotten living trees for a couple of years now. When I bring the tree home, I keep in mind that it has lived its whole life out in a bright field. Bringing it in the darker house immediately would stress the tree. After all, I just put the poor thing through a 55 mph hurricane while driving it home in the back of my truck! I place it in the yard, and acclimatize the tree. This means I slowly work up to bringing it inside. After a day or two, I bring it on the porch. Then I wait another couple of days to bring it in the house and decorate it. The tree is used to being watered every day in the nursery, so I remember to give it water often. Shortly after the holiday festivities are over I reverse my acclimatization and slowly work it back out into the yard. To plant your Christmas tree, dig a hole twice as wide as the root ball.
Width is more important than depth when planting a tree. It is okay to plant it a couple of inches high. Planting too low could cause the tree not to survive. Check for circling roots before you plant. Prune those roots, and spread the roots so they will continue to grow out, and not around. Maybe in the following years, your family could make a tradition of decorating the outside Christmas trees with items that birds and other critters will enjoy. Local Christmas tree farms offer potted Christmas trees.
Another environmentally friendly option is to visit a local Christmas tree farm and cut down your own tree. Pines and cedars grow very quickly and are a sustainable resource. Even young sand pines make nice looking Christmas trees. Buying straight from a local farm reduces the carbon footprint of obtaining a tree that was trucked down from another state. It will be a lot fresher as well! When you are ready for your tree to come down, put it out at your curb on your yard waste day, or take it the main landfill or one of the transfer stations. Your tree will be chipped up and added to the mulch pile at those sites.
Poinsettias can be added to your landscape in the spring. They grow very well in central Florida. Check out the UF/IFAS publication on how to care for your poinsettias in your yard: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/ep349
Amaryllis is another traditional holiday plant that grow nicely in our part of the world. For care of your Amaryllis after the holiday season read this publication from UF/IFAS: https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/ep060
In the stores you will find cute little rosemary plants made to look like little Christmas trees. Rosemary does just fine in a central Florida yard, and this is a great option to consider. You may want to remove the foil while you have it on display in your home, as rosemary doesn’t like to sit in water. Water it only when the soil is dry to the touch. Once you plant it outside, it will outgrow that cute cone shape, but provide you with wonderful aromas and a ready-made source of a wonderful herb. Plant it in full sun in soil that drains well.
One cautionary note about Norfolk Island Pines. They are adorable when they are sold as tiny Christmas trees. They grow very quickly and are not cold hardy. It will be taller than your ceiling in a couple of years. If you plant it in your yard, it will either freeze (despite its name, it’s a tropical plant) or it will survive in a warm micro-climate and grow to be 90 feet tall. These trees are very weak in storms.
So, deck the halls with boughs of holly (another great Christmas plant!) and any other Florida-Friendly plant you enjoy! Think sustainably and be Florida-Friendly!