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Monday, December 19, 2011

Buying Live Christmas Trees and Pine Trees in Malaysia

1. Christmas Pine

During the festive season this year, I find that quite a number of nurseries and garden centres are stocking up on Christmas trees, conifers and pine trees. Since there are more choices and varieties now, it may be a good reason to pop in at the local nursery if you are thinking of buying an evergreen tree for your garden:
  1. To be decorated as a potted indoor or ground-grown Christmas tree with lighting and ornaments. The indoor tree can be replanted later in your garden. This way, you can have an Eco-friendly Christmas.
  2. To landscape the garden like resort-living
  3. To grow a pine tree in the garden for good fengshui

I do hope that you can find your evergreen trees to build up many happy everlasting memories to last a lifetime. Why not then, have a Christmas Tree that is always living and growing in your garden?

2. Round Pine

What we commonly call "pine trees" are actually conifers, i.e. evergreen coniferous trees. These trees have existed since time immemorial, i.e. about 350 million years ago during the Carboniferous Period, long before the Jurassic times. The height of a pine conifer tree varies from 3m (dwarf) to 80m tall. You can differentiate pine trees conifers from one another by the number of needles they have per bundle/cluster.

3. Norfolk Island Pine

The Norfolk Island Pine tree, also known as Hong Kong Pine, House Pine or Star Pine.
Scientific name: Araucaria heterophylla
Family: Araucariaceae
Category: Evergreen coniferous tree

This tree is native (and was endemic) to Norfolk Island in the South Pacific. It is a very popular Christmas Tree. This slow growing tree can reach a height of 6-12m tall. However, the tree trunk tends to bend as the tree ages.  

4. Blue Pine

The Blue Pine, also known as Chinese Juniper or Blue Fir
Scientific name: Juniperus chinensis
Family: Cupressaceae
Category: Coniferous evergreen shrub

Chinese Junipers are very popular in public gardens, stately homes, colleges and universities grounds. There are a few variations; some with a narrow crown and single trunk, some have multiple trunks growing from the base, or the foliage may be yellow and some are dwarf trees.

5. Sleeping Pine

Pine trees are popular in Chinese/Oriental/Japanese Rock/Zen/Water Gardens. Some pine trees can be grown as bonsai. You can also find them in Chinese landscapes painting and calligraphy.

A pair of healthy living pine trees in the garden is a symbol of marital bliss for the couple.

6. Snake Pine

Pine trees remain evergreen throughout winter and their leaves do not fall off. Other plants drop off their leaves, turn dormant or wither and die but not for the Pine, Bamboo and Plum which are regarded as the "3 Friends of Winter" (sui han san you - 岁寒三友). Together they represent perseverence, integrity and modesty. When pictured or painted togerther, they signify a strong friendship that can overcome all kinds of trials, tribulations and adversity. Old and long-living pine trees are highly valued and treated with great respect.

7. Pencil Pine

For the Chinese, pine trees are a symbol of longevity, resilience and strength.

8. Arborvitae

Scientific name: Platycladus orientalis
Common name: Oriental Arborvitae, Oriental Thuja, Biota
Formerly known as: Thuja orientalis
Chinese name: ce bai (側柏)
Family: Cupressaceae
Origin: China, Korea, Iran
Category: Evergreen coniferous tree

It is a compact shrub from the cypress family. This is a popular tree grown in Chinese homes and on the grounds of Chinese temples and associations as a symbol of longevity and vitality. "Arbovitae" is a Latin word meaning "tree of life". The tree can grow to about 15m tall with a spread of 6m. The needles are soft and do not prick your hand. This is a maintenance free tree as it is drought tolerant and quite resistant to pest attack. It grows uniformly, hence it will need very little pruning.The foliage is dense and fan-shaped. Established plants are drought tolerant. Some trees in China are more than 1,000 years old. There is a dwarf variety that grows to about 60-80m tall.

It used to be a custom in traditional Chinese weddings to place P. orientalis leaves inside red envelopes (ang pow packets), gift trays and marital bed during the ceremonies and rituals. E.g. during the "seong tau" (hair combing ceremony) the night before the actual wedding day, a sprig of P. orientalis  leaves was worn on the groom's headdress, also placed in the urn during the prayer session. Nowadays, they have replaced it with pomelo leaves.
9. Podocarpus macrophyllus

In temperate countries with the 4 seasons, pine trees which are non-flowering will bear cones that contain the edible pine seeds called pine nuts that we use for cooking. In our warm Malaysian weather, you won't be able to see this happening to your garden tree!

How to select your tree:
  1. Ask the staff to show you the different types of trees. Chose one that you like according to your budget and your preferences to overall shape, height, spread, texture, foliage colour and growth rate.
  2. Hard and dry soil is a sign of neglect
  3. The tree should not have a lot of needle drop
  4. The tree should not have a lot of foliage that has turned brown and off-colour.
  5. The branches should not snap easily
Finally, remember NOT to prune off more than 2ft from the top of your pine tree!

    My grateful thanks to Soon Lee Landscape at Lot 21 Selangor Green Lane for giving me the permission to take the above photographs. My special thanks to their friendly and knowledgeable staff  for the explanation on the different types of pine trees that we can grow in Malaysia.

    My article, "Evergreen Christmas" about planting live trees first appeared in the New Straits Times on 10 Dec 2011. The link is here.

    Christmas Tree Options:

    1. Imported pre-cut trees - this will cost more than buying a live potted tree from the local nursery. You need to make sure the tree does not dry up or dies before the big day. Most probably, you can't replant the tree after the season is over, so it'll end up in the compost bin or a landfill. You need to cut up the tree into smaller pieces and dispose it off properly. 

    2. A live potted tree from the local nursery - If you choose a healthy tree and maintain it well, it can last many years in a container or replanted on the ground. 

    3. Fibre Optic and/or plastic tree - You can put all sorts of ornaments and lights on the tree. After the season, the tree can be packed and stored up, to be recycled again in the following years. A good choice for an indoor Christmas tree.


    1. What happen to the pine if I had prune off the top of the head of my pine trees? They won't grow any taller ???:(. Really take a load of patience to wait for my pine trees to grow - everyday I measured mine if they had grown taller than me. Mine is pencil pine, if I get it right based on your picture. Is it also same as what is called as juniper?

    2. LeePP, it is for aesthetic reasons that we don't prune off the tip of the pine tree. Moreover the tip is 'leader' or the main branch, hence if you prune it off, the tree will look more bushy and compact but shorter. For fengshui, we'd like the tree to grow upwards for "bu bu gao sheng", meaning step-by-step improvement. As I know, pine trees do grow slowly. The pencil pine in my picture above is a juniper.

    3. Thanks. Going to get new ones and learn from this lesson.

    4. LeePP, in case if you have pruned off the tip of the leader, a side branch will develop to become the leader and slowly takeover to shoot upwards, maybe not as perfect as before. You can google search for info about what to do if the tip has been pruned off.

      During the first year, the little pine tree need to establish its root system. Thereafter they grow about 8-16" per year. If you want a big Christmas tree, perhaps you can buy a bigger tree and have the seller plant it onto the ground for you. They are the best people to advise you on the growth rate, care and maintenance of the particular type of pine tree.

    5. Thanks Autumn - The next day,i changed my mind and decided to live with the consequences, although i told my friends that each time i passed by the trees, they seemed to be scolding me for doing the unthinkable... :-). A condo dweller here, so no ground to plant...having them on containers on my balcony...Got my trees, already grown to almost 4 to 5 feet tall already from a nursery with no name in Sungei Buloh. he gave me the best price - only RM20 or RM25 each...cant get that price anywhere else - anything within that height costs above hundred... Yes, I google lots after that, made my heart ache much on what i did...haha! but i learn.....thanks for your thoughts too.

    6. LeePP, I am so glad you told me about your experience. I have been thinking about you and your tree and wondered if I gave you the correct advice.

      I hope this tree will be the source of your many happy memories from this point forward. It is the errors/mistakes made and valuable lessons learnt that make something even more precious.

      I think you got a very good buy because I bought mine for RM 35 (half a feet tall?) but it came in a nice ceramic container. You are smart to buy during the off-season! Last Christmas, I bought a potted Christmas Trees, one is a Christmas pine which really look like a Christmas tree but the needles are very prickly when young. I really liked this tree and I wanted more. A few months later I bought another one. Actually a friend helped me buy it from a nursery in Klang for RM6 (poly bag). It is a Thuja pine. My Thuja is growing very slowly; by centimetres or none at all but my Christmas Pine has grown about 1 ft. I think this tree will look nice for this year's Christmas season.

    7. Yes, looking forward to Christmas ! ;-)

    8. None of the tree you show are true pine, that is brom the pine family. The pine tree that grow well in Malaysia, where you can see them in Malaysia highlands are Caribean pine, a type of tropical pine.

      1. My learned friend, thank you very much for the valuable comments and information. I guess you mean that a 'true pine' as defined in scientific terms is the family of Pinaceae.

        The trees featured here are those we can commonly find at nurseries and gardens. More correctly, they are coniferous trees. Conifers are commonly called "pine trees" for Christmas trees and fengshui longevity trees. I have inserted the Scientific family name classification like Cupressaceae and Araucariaceae to avoid confusion. Thank you for highlighting.

        The Caribbean Pine tree you refer to:
        1. Do you mean the Pinus caribaea?
        2. I am not sure if it grows well in the lowlands. Does it?
        3. If it grows well in the lowlands, do you know of any nursery that sells this tree?

      2. Sorry for my rather straight forward comment.
        Yes, Caribbean Pine scientific name is Pinus caribaea, they can grow in the low land area in Malaysia too but I am not sure if they can propagate in the low land as they do in the highland. Most specimens in the low land are planted by human. Pine grown as bonsai is one of the most difficult to be kept alive. As bonsai, pine needs good drainage potting mix. I use 1/3 black lava (something like sand but porous) 1/3 pine bark and 1/3 soil for my black pine which I had kept for three years. Sorry I do not know how they flare if kept in a normal pot but I think good drainage potting mix is important too.
        Around Sungai Buloh area some nursery sell Caribbean Pine, price range from RM 20 to RM 200.

      3. Anonymous, actually I am very grateful for your informative contributions here. Thank you very much for being straight forward! I welcome useful and relevant comments :)

    9. hi..where can i buy a fresh pre-cut christmas tree? appreciate if you could provide contact number and address. thanks :)

      1. Jezza, you can get live pre-cut christmas trees at Floristika in Bangsar, arrival is expected around early December. The contact as follows:

    10. Would like to know where can I find golden pine in KL or Selangor area. Most nurseries sell the other type of pine.

      1. I'm sorry I have no idea. You can try calling the nurseries and asking them one by one.

    11. Hello~ I brought a Christmas tree from Cameron Highland last month. And I believe that is a pencil pine, I seem well for few weeks.
      But all in a sudden it dry out. May I know is it my tree is dead or there is a way to save it??

      1. It the tree has dried out meaning that the leaves have withered off, and the trunk is dried and brittle to the extend of breaking off, then the tree has died.


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