Strangled by the Light
Sometimes, we ask too much of our urban trees. We expect them to be healthy, vigorous, ameliorating the air and storing carbon. But we also nail signs to their trunks, as if they were dead posts, compact the ground around them for our oh-so-important engineered walkways, we cut out tree roots so we can bury some cable to improve our internet services, and we fit Christmas lights to them, with cable ties and staples, because it makes them look pretty, along with screwing in all the associated electricity boxes and main cable. And that's just a few of the abuses our urban trees have to endure.
I’m absolutely in favor of tree lights strung in plain old Christmas-tree fashion. And even more in favor of lights along fences and around windows. God knows we’re starved for light this time of year. But tree-wrapping, winding the cords round and round each trunk and branch, seems to look like bondage, especially when the tree in question is a young thing trying to stay alive in a sidewalk tree pit. Street trees are already being urinated on by dogs, wounded by cars and starved by poor soil, to mention only a few of their miseries.

The problem for the tree starts when people lay hands on them. They’re at risk when people put the lights up and at more risk when people take them down.

As for taking light strings off, it’s almost impossible to unwind them gently come spring. If you’ve ever undressed a Christmas tree, you know how tempting it is to give a yank. On a cut tree that’s not a big deal; on a live tree it could pull off branch tips or whole branches. The greatest risk is when the lights aren’t taken off at all. Because after all, Christmas will arrive again a mere 365 days from now. Year after year, the tree trunk and branches grow thicker. Circling cords dig into the bark and impede the movement of food and water up and down the tree. Nowadays you can see cords cutting into the trunk of oaks in Texas and Redwoods in California, which are wrapped with lights year-round.
Glowing trees fill a need. But in trying to cheer ourselves in winter we’re not fully taking in the fact that these trees are alive, that given care they will be useful and beautiful in their own right and not just for their accessories. 
Here are a few tips to balance healthy trees with holiday lights:
  • Use a professional arborist/decorator. These persons have a stake in the trees’ continuing good health. In the spring the cords are sheared and the lights thrown away.
  • Christmas trees lights strung along but not around the branches are pretty without the garrote effect.
  • Spotlight a tree from the ground below.
  • Drape lights over shrubs.
  • Put lights on houses, windows, streetlights or other structures.
  • Wrap only the trunks and not the branches.
The fact is, there is only so much that a tree can take.

This oak in a Texas restaurant patio, has received plenty of abuse over its time (of approximately 130 years).

Now it has bleeding cankers associated with the many cable nails that have hammered into it, for the Christmas light display that has been left permanently upon it. Now its crown is declining noticeably.
A new tree struggling in a planting pit, every inch wrapped with lights.
A sequoia redwood wrapped in lights with the electrical box bolted to the trunk. 
We have to put the needs of the tree first. If the light effects are more important, then just don’t use a tree.
A thin barked tree has cable nails hammered into it for the Christmas light display.
In Boston, tree trunks are lit up instead of the canopy; easier to put on and better for the tree.
Chicken, Artichoke and Broccoli Bake
with Herb Bread Crumbs
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (1½ to 2 pounds total)
1 pound broccoli head cut into 2-inch florets (about 4 cups)
5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 (14-ounce) cans quartered artichoke hearts in water, drained
½ cup chicken broth
2 tablespoons drained capers
2 tablespoons butter, melted
5 garlic cloves, minced
½ cup panko bread crumbs
2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
Fresh lemon
Heat oven to 400 degrees. In a 3-quart baking dish, combine chicken, broccoli florets and 2 tablespoons oil; season with salt and pepper. Toss to evenly coat, spread broccoli in an even layer and arrange chicken breasts on top.

In a large bowl, combine artichokes, broth, capers, butter, garlic and 2 tablespoons oil and season with salt and pepper. Gently toss, then spoon mixture over chicken and broccoli. Bake 35 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a small skillet, heat remaining 1 tablespoon oil over medium. Add panko and cook, stirring frequently, 8 to 10 minutes. Transfer to a bowl to cool, then stir in dill and season with salt and pepper. When chicken is done, squeeze with lemon and top with dilled bread crumbs.
Thanks for Reading
Happy Planting
and Happy Holidays!
Faith Appelquist
President & Founder