University of Vermont Extension
Winter (holiday) News
Department of Plant and Soil Science
CHOOSING A CHRISTMAS TREE
Leonard Perry, Extension Professor
University of Vermont
According to the National Christmas
Tree Association (www.christmastree.org), 29 million households bought
Christmas trees in 2006 compared to just over 9 million households with
artificial trees. Of those with real
trees, most (84%) bought them at retail outlets, the others cutting their
own. If you get a tree either way
Before you even leave home, measure
the space your tree will occupy—both height and width. Then
take a tape measure with you.
always seem to look smaller in the great outdoors than when we get them
our homes! This simple step can save
money buying a tree too large, and extra cutting once the tree is
Also, before leaving home pack a
blanket or tarp to wrap the tree if you can’t fit it inside your vehicle, as
well as enough rope to tie securely to your vehicle. Some tree farms have netting sleeves to slip
your trees into, as well as twine. A
pair of work gloves is useful, especially if you’ll be cutting your own, as is
a hand saw
Those choosing to “cut their own
tree” at a tree plantation may save money, as these growers often ask a fixed
price for any tree. Sometimes a sleigh
ride or coffee and doughnuts at a warming hut are included in the price. Some
firms allow you to tag your tree early to cut just before the holidays. Good buys also can be found at retail outlets,
though prices are usually higher
as someone else has provided the labor and transportation. Shop early for a wider selection of trees,
and for fresh trees that will last longer.
How can you easily check for
freshness? First, pinch the
needles. If they bend rather than break,
the tree is fresh. Run your hand along
the branches to see if the needles stay on or many fall off. Or bounce the stump end of the tree on the
ground. If too many needles fall off,
choose another tree. Another way to
check for freshness is to feel the base of the tree. If it is sticky with resin, the tree was
recently cut and should stand up well throughout the holidays.
Many varieties of evergreens are
grown for Christmas trees, so you have several choices depending on your own
preference. The spruce has short, sharp,
four-sided needles and is usually bushier than pine. However, it doesn't hold its needles as well
as other varieties. The fir has flat,
short needles and smooth bark. The pine has longer needles in clusters of two
to five and will keep its needles for several weeks. Most popular, depending on area, are balsam
fir, Douglas-fir, Fraser fir, noble fir, Scotch pine, Virginia pine and white pine.
I like to shop early for the
freshest trees, even if I wont use them right away. Precut trees from retailers will last longer
in a cool area (such as garage) at your home in a bucket of water than in a
sales yard. Upon getting your tree home, especially if you didn’t cut your own,
immediately place the base in a large bucket of warm water. Warm water is absorbed faster than cold. Research
has shown that plain tap water is best for trees to last longest. Home concoctions such as bleach, aspirin,
lemon-lime soda, and many preservatives may actually shorten tree life.
It is useful to recut a half inch
off to open up the water vessels in the trunk.
One to two inches cut off is not needed as often recommended (unless you
need to shorten the tree size), nor is an angled cut.
When it's time to set up the tree,
if you don’t do so just after buying, recut the base. Get a stand that can hold the trunk. Don’t
trim sides off the base of the trunk as that is where the tree takes up its
Use a tree stand that holds at least
a quart of water for small trees, a gallon for large ones, as a freshly cut
evergreen can drink that much water each day.
Generally figure on a quart of water for each inch of trunk diameter at
the base. So a trunk four inches across
should have a stand holding four quarts (gallon) of water.
If your tree doesn’t start “drinking”
water right away, and you followed all these tips, it could be because the tree
hasn’t adjusted from the outdoors and started to dry out if you cut your
own. Or if precut, and fresh, it may not
absorb much water until it begins to dry out.
Choose a location away from heat
sources (heat vents, radiators, wood stoves, sunny windows) and doorways. Tall trees may need to be secured with wire
to walls and ceilings for support. I
have a bookcase affixed securely to the wall that I tie my tall trees to.
Be sure to check trees daily and add
water as needed. Heated rooms,
especially with forced air heat, can dry out trees rapidly. Keep in mind fire hazards of live trees
indoors often are overrated by the media.
According to data from the National Fire Protection Association, both
live and artificial Christmas trees are ignited in only one tenth of one
percent (0.1 percent) of all home fires.
Trees that are kept fresh, using these tips, are very difficult to ignite. The main problem with dry trees is a shorter
life with needles dropping. Pick a fresh
tree, and keep it fresh, and you’ll get the enjoyment you expect over the
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