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Fir for Christmas

Nordmann fir can thrive in Kentucky climate

The winter holiday season always brings evergreens such as pine, spruce and fir to the forefront of my mind. Filling front porch containers with small evergreens or evergreen boughs somehow makes the cold and often dreary winter more palatable. If you decorate a fresh-cut Christmas tree for the holidays, you may be familiar with the Fraser fir, often called the “Cadillac of Christmas trees.” This fir makes an excellent cut tree with its soft but rigid needles, and its boughs are perfect to use in decorating your containers.

One word of advice: Don’t try to grow a Fraser fir in a Kentucky landscape because they do not like our climate. They prefer to grow in the mountains. Not to worry, if you have always dreamed of having a living Christmas tree in your landscape, there is one fir that will grow here, and it is the Nordmann fir, Abies nordmanniana. While this fir can also be grown and cut as a Christmas tree, it is best known for its beauty and stately presence in the landscape. 

Nordmann Fir has an elegant, pyramidal shape and retains its shape even with age. In Kentucky, it can grow 35 to 60 feet tall and 15 to 25 feet wide, but prefers a specific growing environment. Plant it in full sun to part shade in an area with moist but well-drained soil. This is not the plant for a site with heavy clay soil. Fortunately, the Nordmann fir is much more tolerant of heat and a wider range of soil pH than most other firs, so it will grow in Kentucky.

If you choose to plant one, make sure to place it in a location where it has room to grow to its mature size. The Nordmann fir is also beautiful when decorated with lights during the winter, but as it grows, it can become more difficult to hang lights on it. You may have to hire a professional or simply enjoy its winter beauty as is. It looks even more beautiful when it snows.

The Nordmann Fir can be hard to find, but it is definitely worth the search. I have long admired the beautiful Nordmann fir planted at my friend, author and botanist Pat Haragan’s home. Haragan planted her Nordmann fir, shown above, about 15 years ago and it inspired me to plant one at new my home six years ago. 

SHELLY NOLD is a horticulturist and owner of The Plant Kingdom. Send stories and ideas to her at The Plant Kingdom, 4101 Westport Road, Louisville, KY 40207.

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