University of Vermont Extension 
Department of Plant and Soil Science

Winter News Article


Dr. Leonard P. Perry, Extension Professor

Choosing the right Christmas tree for your home and caring for it properly will make the difference between just having a tree this year, and really enjoying it.  Many evergreen species are cultivated for Christmas tree sales in the north.  Each has its own distinguishing characteristics.

Most pines, for instance, have two to five needles bound together at the base by a sheath.  The needles are about two to five inches long. White pines often don't hold their needles as long indoors as some other species, while Scotch Pine is one of the more common choices, especially in the South and the Midwest.

Spruce trees have single needles one-third to one inch long, attached to the twigs by peg-like projections.  The needle is four-sided.  (You can feel the sides by rolling it in your fingers.)  Spruce are generally prickly when rubbing the needles, and so for this reason not a first choice of many.
The balsam fir also has single needles, but they aren't quite as prickly, nor can you roll the needles in your fingers.  Their needles are flat, and longer than those of the spruce-- about three-fourths to one and one-half inches long.  Balsam fir is one of the most common and favored choices in the Northeast.

Another species, the Douglas fir, has flat needles of similar length to those of the balsam fir.  The buds are pointed on the Douglas fir, but rounded on the balsam fir.  You may also find some hybrids, such as the popular Fraser fir.

The best way to obtain a good quality tree that will last throughout the holidays is to get one freshly cut.  One way to insure this is to go out and cut your own.  Over the holidays you can often find ads for such establishments in the newspaper.  Often they offer other attractions such as sleigh rides or cider, and products such as garland and kissing balls.  Visiting one is a good excuse for a countryside drive and family outing.

If you plan to cut your own, always go to an established Christmas tree grower.  These growers have carefully pruned and nurtured their trees over several years.  Such healthy trees will last much longer than ones not so cared for, and they will be much more attractive.

On the way home, make sure and wrap your tree to prevent it from drying out by road wind.  Either carry your own tarp and cord, or better growers will have special sleeves and supplies just for this purpose.

As soon as possible once home, if not putting up at once, stand in a bucket of warm water.  The warm water is more quickly absorbed than cold, and adding a tree preservative (available at many garden and hardware stores) will help prolong the life further.  Keep in a cool area outside, in the shade, out of the wind, until you are ready to use.

Cut at least an inch off the base, creating a "fresh cut" to better absorb water, before placing the tree in the stand.  Always use a stand that has a water reservoir, preferably a large one, as trees can take up much daily.  Letting trees dry out blocks up the veins with air, so they absorb less water later.  A dry tree is a potential fire hazard.

Make sure and place your tree in a cool location if possible for longest life, preferably away from heat sources such as fireplaces, radiators, stoves, and candles.  And of course use tree lights safely.

Check tree lights when installing to make sure no cords are frayed with exposed wires.  Remember to shut off the tree lights when away from home, even for a short time.

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