Debra Prinzing

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a word about tiny Christmas trees

December 17th, 2008

Those of us who attended the September 2008 Garden Writers Association annual symposium in Portland were in for a big treat when we boarded the coach buses (seven or eight in all) and took a ride to Boring, Oregon, home of Iseli Nursery.

We were introduced to a world of ornamental conifers, in every shape and size. Even though Washington is called the “Evergreen State,” in the nursery trade, it seems, the folks in Oregon claim the title. 

Iseli Nursery grows all sorts of amazing woody plant specimens – trees, shrubs and more. They sent us home with a gift bag packed with five delightful little conifer specimens – perfect for a container planting, rock garden or tablescape. You can see the incredible variety in Iseli’s “Fanciful Gardens” collection depicted above (including some dwarf broadleaf evergreens in the front row). My photos, from left: A colorful “knot garden” of mostly dwarf conifers mixed with barberry, Iseli entrance; tiny, just-propagated woody cuttings of mugo pine.

The next day, I found myself sitting on yet another the bus ride/garden tour with with Sandy Dittmar, a horticulturist at Iseli. We talked about how many gardeners are only now discovering conifers, and how dwarf conifers are so versatile for smaller landscapes. She planted a seed of insight and got me thinking.

So when I saw my local Trader Joe’s stocked with miniature Leyland cypress and Lawson cypress (we’re talking 4-inch pots for $4.29 or so), I called Sandy and said: Remember when we talked about dwarf conifers? Are those Trader Joe’s mini-trees yours?

It turns out, the tiny live trees in shiny pots are supplied by BloomRite Nursery, a wholesale grower in Half Moon Bay, California. But Iseli’s tiny Alberta spruces, mugo pines, and blue-star junipers, and countless other dwarf conifers are showing up in specialty nurseries and retail florists around the country. Cute, they are. Versatile, too. And perfect for a scaled-back Christmas!

In this cost-conscious holiday season, it was a fitting “tiny tree story” for the Los Angeles Times’  Home section, page F2 (December 13th).

Here is the piece I wrote under the “Seen” heading, in its entirety:

A pint-sized forest at home

Looking for evergreen decor – something that can last long past Christmas? Turn tiny potted conifers into a miniature forest across a fireplace mantle, or create a tabletop landscape with dwarf pines. Tiny trees are “a cheap luxury,” says Lisa Tsui, a product manager at BloomRite, a wholesale grower in Half Moon Bay, Calif., that supplies potted pines and Leyland cypress to Trader Joe’s. “In this economic environment, people are using them to supplement decorations they already have,” she says.

Iseli Nursery in Boring, Ore., ships tens of thousands of dwarf conifers to garden centers during the holidays. Even though some customers treat the evergreens as throwaway décor, they can be transplanted in the garden or an outdoor container, Iseli sales manager Jock Demme says. The challenge is to keep the plants alive indoors. “The home setting has drier and warmer air than these plants require,” he says. “I suggest submerging the pot in a larger container of water and soaking the roots every day.” The trees at Trader Joe’s sell for $4.29 to $5.99 each; you’ll find variations for $9.95 at the Empty Vase in West Hollywood, (310) 278-1988, Also try Red Envelope, (877) 733-3683,

Here’s a little gallery of dwarf and miniature tree photographs, shared by Iseli and Nurserymen’s Exchange (which is the company behind BloomRite).

8 Responses to “a word about tiny Christmas trees”

  1. Kathryn/ Says:

    Any notes on what to do with them after Christmas?Just wondering…

  2. Helen Yoest Says:

    Well done. My GWA tiny trees were planted in a hypertufa and many given away to friends. I happen to be there when several Canadians were told certain species couldn’t be imported…their loss, my gain. Mind you, I paid dearly in shipping. However, the smile of friend’s faces who receive these beauties was worth it. Helen

  3. debra Says:

    A good source of ideas for designing with miniature conifers appeared in Dee Nash’s Halloween post on She used her dwarf conifers from the GWA meeting to plant a charming spooky landscape in a container, adorned with little creatures, cobwebs and pumpkins. Here is the link:
    A week after coming back to LA from GWA in Portland, I attended an APLD get-together at Shirley Bovshow’s (Edenmaker’s garden – see link to her blog on my home page). Shirley displayed the five fanciful conifers on a tray and created a lovely “instant” centerpiece on her outdoor patio.
    Great ideas abound! The main challenge for hot-climate gardeners is to keep mini-trees moist. The minute the soil dries out – you’re in trouble.

  4. Lydia Plunk Says:

    I grouped the mini pine forest in bonzai containers and “mulched” with moss. For Christmas- I put little winter-time figureines in the pots and decorated the trees with dollhouse-size ornaments. If I were decorating for a party- I might even have traded out the moss with “snow”.

    Iseli listed Armstrongs as a SoCal retail supplier of their products.

  5. Dee/reddirtramblings Says:

    Hey, thanks for the link love. Iseli Nursery told me to keep the little darlings outside after the holidays and said they would be fine on the deck as long as they were watered. I have mine up against the east side of the house where they will get some protection. The true test is whether I can keep them going during the summer heat.~~Dee

  6. Ellen Zachos Says:

    I used two sets of the Iseli evergreens in some copper boxes on a client’s terrace. They’re small, hanging boxes right outside glass doors, and the evergreens look very pretty, surrounded by a mulch of blue cedar boughs, pine cones, and pepperberry. Hope they make it through the winter…there’s not much soil to insulate those root balls, so I know I’m taking a chance. Something you guys in Southern Cal don’t have to worry about! : ) I wouldn’t trade the snow we’ve got right now for anything…it’s gorgeous! Almost 2 feet up here in NH!

  7. Cathy Skraba Says:

    Debra, Thanks for the information, I’d wondered where Traders Joe’s were getting their miniature evergreens. I’ll be ready this year with pretty little pots of tiny trees.
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  8. Berniece Says:

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