The decorative fir, which is also known under the names Andean fir, snake tree, monkey tail tree, Chilet fir or shingle fir, belongs to the araucaria family. This evergreen conifer is one of the oldest still living and one of the rarest plant species in the world. It is now threatened with extinction in its country of origin.


Its triangular, scale-like leaves ‘needles’, which sit on twigs and branches as well as on the trunk of young trees, are particularly fascinating. This wood is dioecious, that is, there are male and female trees, the seeds of the female trees being edible.

This tree grows between 10 and 30 cm per year and can reach heights of 10-15 m in this country, in contrast to its original home, where it grows up to 50 m high with a trunk diameter of up to 2 m. In mild areas of Germany you can Plant the decorative fir outdoors without any problems. In cooler regions, cultivation in a bucket with frost-free overwintering is possible.

Planting in the open ground

When planting an Andean fir, you should pay attention to sufficient space, as these plants can grow up to 15 m high in our latitudes. Spring is the best time to plant, because the plant then has enough time until autumn to get used to the new location and to take root in the soil.
First, a correspondingly large planting hole must be dug, which should be about twice as deep and wide as the root ball of the plant in question. Then the decorative fir is inserted into the planting hole up to the upper limit of the root ball and filled with soil. To make it easier for the decorative fir to grow, it makes sense to mix in peat or garden compost. Finally, lightly step on the soil in the area around the roots and water the whole thing well.

Before planting them in the garden, young plants should ideally be kept in pots for the first three to four years so that they can easily be transported in late autumn to a frost-free area and overwintered there, because young plants are not hardy.

Planting in the bucket

Especially in colder regions, it is advisable to cultivate the araucaria exclusively in a bucket so that it can overwinter accordingly frost-free. The ornamental fir can be planted in tubs all year round, provided the substrate is frost-free. Appropriate drainage is also essential when planting in the tub, because the decorative fir is very sensitive to too much moisture.

Gravel or coarse sand is suitable as drainage. A fleece is then placed on the drainage and then the actual substrate in which the ornamental fir is planted is placed on it. Finally, it is well watered. Now you should place the plant in a location protected from rain if possible and water it only when necessary. An ornamental fir that is permanently cultivated as a container plant should be repotted in a somewhat larger planter about every 2-3 years.

Location requirements

The decorative fir prefers warm, very bright and sunny locations that are sheltered from the wind and should have the highest possible humidity. A location facing south to west, which at best has little morning and morning sun and hardly any winter sun, would be ideal for this wood. An almost perfect location can also make it much easier for this plant to overwinter.

Soil condition

  • The soil should be well drained, slightly acidic, moist and moderately rich in nutrients.
  • A high proportion of sand is an advantage.
  • A mixture of loamy soil, sand and humus should be particularly good.
  • A drainage layer made of gravel is useful for heavier soils.
  • This should be at least 20 cm high.

Watering and fertilizing

During the main growth phase you should water regularly, but only when the top layer of soil has dried well. Constant moisture in the soil is important for both container plants and specimens planted in the garden; the soil should never dry out completely. Just like persistent drought, too much moisture or waterlogging should be avoided, which could otherwise cause rot in the root area. One should water less rather than too much.

Specimens planted in the garden do not usually need fertilization. A decorative fir in the bucket should be supplied with a commercially available liquid fertilizer about every 2-3 weeks, whereby the instructions of the respective manufacturer should be observed with regard to the dosage. Only organic fertilizers should be used for the first year after planting. In addition, you should make sure that the fertilizer contains trace elements, which is often not the case with cheap fertilizers, so that you also have to apply a trace element fertilizer.

To cut

  • The decorative fir does not tolerate a cut very well.
  • Branches that are shortened will never sprout again on this wood, stubs remain.
  • It may be necessary to remove branches due to illness or annoying branches.
  • These should be cut off directly at the base of the trunk and always completely.
  • There shouldn’t be any stubs left behind.
  • This form of cutting back is known as ‘clipping’.
  • Unavoidable pruning should be done in warm and dry weather.
  • Because of the intolerance to pruning, you should choose an optimal location for planting.
  • It should be able to stand there permanently without having to be cut or replanted.

Propagation by sowing

As far as the procurement of the seeds is concerned, it is advisable to give preference to seeds from specimens that have been cultivated in this country, because these are usually better winter hardiness. If necessary, you should also ask the seller about the age of the respective seeds in order not to acquire overlaid seeds, which then may only germinate with great difficulty or not at all.

The Andean fir can be sown all year round. The reddish-brown seeds of the araucaria can be sown in early autumn, for example, immediately after they have ripened. It is important that these are not allowed to dry out beforehand. Otherwise, the seeds can also be subjected to the necessary cold treatment by so-called stratification. This is necessary to break the dormancy and to stimulate germination.

For an appropriate cold treatment, you can put the seeds in moist sand in a plastic bag or foil and store them in the refrigerator for about 3-4 weeks at temperatures around 5 degrees. After this cold treatment, the seeds are put upside down, about halfway into a suitable substrate. A third of the seed should definitely stick out of the substrate.

The substrate can consist of a mixture of commercially available potting soil and about a third of perlite or sand or of Kokohum potting soil. The substrate should always be kept slightly moist, but not wet. Until germination, which can take about 12 weeks, the whole thing is then placed in a place with temperatures between 5 and 25 degrees. The temperatures do not have to be permanently constant, but can fluctuate from time to time within the tolerance, which can even be beneficial for the germination process.

If the seedlings are big enough, they can be pricked out or separated. It is advisable not to plant young plants out in the garden for the first three years, but rather to place them in appropriate planters, for example in a greenhouse. After these three years, the plants can then be planted outside in mild regions.


Decorative firs are usually relatively robust and insensitive to diseases. However, yellow or brown discoloration of the leaves often occurs, which can have different causes.

The most common cause is too much moisture or waterlogging, which in the worst case can lead to a dangerous fungal disease that attacks the roots and causes them to rot. Combating such fungal diseases is not possible; it usually results in the plant dying off. To prevent this, care should be taken to ensure that the soil is well drained when planting.

Another cause for a brown discoloration of the leaves or needles can be cold frosts with simultaneous winter sun. Bald frost means frost close to the ground without an insulating snow cover. This leads to increased evaporation in connection with a frozen ground. This in turn makes it impossible for the plant to absorb water, so that leaf damage occurs and, in the worst case, the plant dries up.

To prevent such unfavorable conditions, the decorative fir should be planted on the north wall of a building, if possible, where there is sufficient light, but the plant is still protected from the winter sun. Older ornamental fir trees in colder locations can be protected with a thick layer of mulch that is spread over the root area.

Removing dead shoots or branches can help damaged plants to regenerate, but this would destroy the external appearance of this unique plant. If only the lowest branches are affected, you may be able to clench.


Silver firs cultivated in pots are particularly vulnerable to frost and therefore need frost-free overwintering in a light location at temperatures between 0 and 5 degrees. In particularly mild locations, decorative firs can also overwinter in the open air in a bucket. However, you should still protect them from frost, for example by placing them on thick styrofoam sheets and wrapping the tub with fleece. In colder locations, frost-free accommodation is essential.
For the first 3-4 years, this plant should only be kept in a bucket and overwintered frost-free, because young decorative firs are not winter hardy. Older specimens planted in the garden can withstand temperatures of – 15 degrees for a short time. However, they are very sensitive to cold frost with simultaneous winter sun.

Accordingly, the branches should be protected from the winter sun as much as possible, for example with a shading net and the root area should be generously covered with a layer of straw or leaves. The trunk can be wrapped very well with fleece, fir branches or reed mats. In cold regions, in the first year after planting outdoors, it makes sense to wrap the crown of the decorative fir with spruce twigs or fleece in winter. In order to protect this tree from the winter sun right from the start, it makes sense to plant it in a protected location as soon as possible, for example a north wall.

Watering must also be carried out in winter, but only moderately so that the root ball does not dry out. Water in the garden only on frost-free days or longer dry frost periods. As a rule, there is no fertilization in winter.

The evergreen decorative fir is a fascinating plant, but its maintenance is not without problems. Moisture or waterlogging and cold frosts with simultaneous winter sun are particularly dangerous for them. Despite everything, it is a real eye-catcher due to its unusual appearance both in the garden and in the bucket. With the purchase of an Andean fir you are also doing something to preserve an endangered and one of the rarest plants in the world.

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