Choosing the Perfect Christmas Tree

The Christmas tree is a holiday tradition which began in Germany in the seventeenth century. German immigrants and Hessian soldiers hired by the British to fight the colonists during the American Revolution brought the tradition to the United States. Today, most Americans decorate their home with an artificial , live, or cut tree for the holiday season.

Good quality artificial trees are time-saving, clean, safe, and attractive. Yet, for many individuals (myself included) even the best quality artificial tree lacks the beauty, charm, and romance of a live or cut tree.

Container grown or balled and burlapped live trees can be used as Christmas trees during the holiday season and are then planted outdoors in the home landscape. Unfortunately, planting evergreen trees in mid-winter is often difficult because of our harsh winter weather. Many winter planted evergreens die. Good site preparation, plant selection and care of the live tree can dramatically improve its chances for survival. Small, healthy evergreens are the best choice for live Christmas trees. Small trees are less expensive, easier to handle, and are more likely to survive. Prepare the planting site for the tree before the ground freezes in the fall. Store the soil in a warm place and then spread straw and a tarp over the planting area to keep the soil from freezing. Once purchased, store the tree in a sheltered, cool location, such as a garage, shed, or porch. Make sure the soil ball is kept moist but does not freeze. The maximum stay indoors for an evergreen should be 7 to 10 days. Indoors, place the tree in a cool location and keep the soil ball moist. Shortly after Christmas, remove the tree from the house and place it in a cool, protected location. (Don t place the tree directly outdoors. A sudden, large drop in temperatures could injure the tree.) Plant the tree outdoors on a mild winter day.

A few decisions should be made before going out to buy a cut tree. Decide where you are going to place the tree. Also, decide on the type (Scotch pine, white pine, Fraser fir, Douglas fir, white spruce, etc.) and the size (height and width) of the tree you want.

Cut Christmas trees may be purchased from cut-your-own tree farms or as cut trees in a commercial lot. Trees cut and purchased at cut-your-own tree farms are obviously fresh. Carefully check trees at a commercial tree lot to insure the freshness of previously cut trees. Freshness can be determined with a few simple tests. Gently run your hand over a branch. The needles on a fresh tree will be pliable. Those on a dry tree will be brittle. Another test is to lift the tree by the trunk and lightly bounce the butt on the ground. Heavy needle drop indicates a dry tree. A fresh tree will drop only a few needles.

When looking for a tree select one that has a straight trunk. It will be much easier to set it upright in the stand. Check the diameter of the trunk to make sure it will fit in your stand. A tree with a bare side may be fine if you intend to place it in a corner or against a wall.

Once you get the tree home, place it in a cool, sheltered location. The storage site should protect the tree from sun and wind. Put the butt of the tree in a bucket of water. Saw off 1 inch of wood at the bottom of the trunk before bringing the tree indoors. A fresh cut helps facilitate water uptake. Place and secure the tree in its stand and fill the reservoir with water. Check the water supply as least twice a day and add water as needed. Promptly remove the tree when it begins to dry and drop needles.

This article originally appeared in the November 10, 2000 issue, p. 120.

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