Araucaria heterophylla

I want to plant a tree in my front yard that looks like a Christmas tree to decorate for the holidays. Can you suggest something?

The usual suspects won’t work in our area: fir and spruce trees that are traditionally used for Christmas trees cannot take our summer heat and humidity, and on the flip side – unless you live in Galveston – the festive little Norfolk Island pines (Araucaria heterophylla) planted outside after the holidays almost always fry when temperatures plunge into the low 20s.

Don’t give up! There are heat- and cold-hardy evergreen conifers available through local nurseries that can approximate the look that you desire: pyramidal varieties of juniper, cypress and arborvitae grow well here when given full sun and good drainage. Japanese cedar (Cryptomeria japonica) is also a good candidate; just make sure that it does not get too wet.

If you want something more exotic, and are patient and willing to start small, you could plant a China fir (Cunninghamia lanceolata), Florida torreya (Torreya taxifolia), or Taiwan cedar (Taiwania cryptomerioides), all of which can be found via mail-order nurseries or could be special ordered by a garden center. Once they are established, these trees just keep getting bigger and better every year.

Thinking outside the box a bit more: with careful clipping, Japanese yew (Podocarpus japonica) could be transformed into a beautifully decorated holiday specimen, as would dwarf Magnolia grandiflora varieties such as ‘Little Gem’ and ‘Teddy Bear.’ They both clip beautifully and you could use those clippings for decorations inside the house, too!

Darrin Duling is the director of Mercer Botanic Gardens in Humble. Send your questions to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Darrin Duling
Author: Darrin DulingEmail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
I am the director of Mercer Botanic Gardens located at 22306 Aldine Westfield Road in Humble. I hold The Royal Horticultural Society of England certificate of training, The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, diploma of horticulture and a Master of Science degree in plant taxonomy from the University of Reading, England. I have worked in botanic gardens in England, Thailand, Florida and New York, and was sole proprietor of Duling Designs LLC, a landscape design/consultation business in Greenwich, Conn. My botanical explorations have taken me to Brazil, Brunei, Sabah, Singapore, Thailand, Peru and other exotic destinations.