Growing the Desert Garden

Welcome to the Desert Garden, with garden coach Tyler Storey, where we talk about everything having to do with gardening and landscaping in the Desert Southwest. From composting to Cercidium and agaves to arugula — we'll cover everything you want to know to grow your own beautiful Desert Garden.

Friday, December 12, 2008

When Bad Things Happen to Good Trees: Christmas Lights

Christmas Light Damaged Tree © Tyler Storey

In this Advent season, with Christmas nearly upon us, we might be forgiven for thinking the object pictured to the left is a large candy cane.

It isn't.

But 'tis the season for taking a look at what it is.

The object pictured is the trunk of a Palo Verde tree after its Christmas lights were removed. What's worse is that this photo is of only one trunk of a multi-trunked tree: altogether, three multi-trunked trees in this landscape suffered the same damage. The lights were expertly installed, wrapped snugly against the trunk, and when they were lighted they looked spectacular.

The lights were on the tree for only two months, but the ugly brown stripes spiralling up the trunk will be there for the life of the tree.

It is strangely easy for us to forget the two most basic qualities of trees: they are alive, and they grow. Most of the errors we make in the placement, planting, staking, pruning and care of trees are a result of forgetting those two facts. We have a certain tendency to treat trees not as trees but as wood: infinitely malleable and able to be shaped, altered, decorated and re-formed at will. Despite our best efforts, the trees do not agree (Suggesting that trees have the capacity to "agree" or "disagree" is an example of anthropomorphism, or treating trees not as trees but as humans, which is also incorrect but completely off-subject, and doesn't actually damage the trees.).

I've included the picture of the Palo Verde because the damage is visually obvious, but the mesquite in this landscape may have suffered the most. Evey time the lights were turned on, the mesquite tree oozed thick, curved, gobs of sap from directly below each light; it was very odd. Since the lights were removed, the tree has large brown patches spreading over the trunk. I'm keeping an eye on it for the client, but it's not looking good.

The best and only permanent way to light your trees is with landscape lighting, which is always a beautiful addition to the desert landscape. Send me an e-mail and I'll set you up with an expert, and very reasonable, landscape lighting installer. If you must use Christmas lights in your landscape trees, limit yourself to one of two methods: drape strings of lights very loosely around the branches, or buy the light "nets" that can be draped over the entire tree canopy. Both methods have drawbacks, but neither will cause anywhere near the damage of wrapped lights.

Remember: Christmas lights really belong only on Christmas trees, and should be lighted while standing around singing "Angels We Have Heard on High." I never remember the words to the second and third verses, so I just hum along and then make up for it by really belting out the chorus.


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