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A Christmas Tree that Smells Like an Orange?

Abies concolor - Concolor FirMany years ago when our Christmas tree farm was youthful and at full operation, we had a phone call that made the shop gals giggle and call me to the phone. The voice on the other end said, "Do you have those trees that smell like an orange?" I then realized that although I had enjoyed the fragrance of Concolor Fir while making wreaths for many years, I had never categorized or defined it as the tree that smelled like an orange. But upon breaking off a few needles and crushing them with my fingers the wonderful, fresh clean aroma of a juicy orange filled the air! Ever since I have thought of this lady who opened up my senses to defining the fragrance of the Concolor Fir.

These soft, needled trees look blue-gray and are so very striking when planted in a landscape. They are stately, pyramid shaped evergreens with distinct horizontal branches. Like most firs they are fragrant, unlike most firs they can grow well in our hot summer climate and are very drought tolerant. I really like them and usually try to have pieces in arrangements I make for my home as well as for customers. When dried, the needles make a nice potpourri additional for a seasonal appearance and aroma. I like to place small pieces in with artificial garlands on the mantle and hutch and wherever else I can tuck them.

These trees withstand heat and drought better than other Firs. Although they prefer a deep, rich moist, well-drained gravely or sandy loam, they will adapt to almost all soils except a heavy wet clay. They are native to the Four Corners region of the Southwest and into California, so they are very adaptable to drought. We have never had a problem growing them in our somewhat sandy fields. They need full sun to become bushy, shiny blue-gray giants. In the shade they are sparse and pale and will not realize their potential to become full, beautiful trees. They grow 30-50 feet in height in that many years, but may grow bigger in very optimal conditions over a long period of time.

The plant gets no serious diseases or insects and is really a great but often underused plant in the landscape.

I have had this tree as a Christmas tree and just love it as it is so pretty and fragrant. This year we did not cut them, but rather dug some so that they will live far past this holiday season, making homes for wildlife and yielding greens for Christmases to come.

Other Firs such as Fraser and Balsam really don't take well to the sandy and humidity found in our coastal areas. They are high altitude tress, growing best in the mountains of Maine, northern Pennsylvania and New York as well as in western mountains and northern west coast areas.

Remember that a live tree, one with a root ball should not be kept in more than a week and a half. It should be in a cool area and watered well. Better yet, set one up to greet passerby's outdoors with lights and a star and it will grow for years.

Lorraine Kiefer is the owner of Triple Oaks Nursery and has been a garden writer since 1972. Click here to email her.

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