Debra Prinzing

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a word about tiny Christmas trees

Wednesday, 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).