Cooler weather has arrived just in best time to coddle cut Christmas trees! Low temps extend the freshness of the cut trees nurseries have stocked for this weekend’s rush of spirited patrons. If you are considering a cut tree for this year’s festivities, read on to learn which trees perform best, last longer, and how to pick the freshest tree on the lot.
First I must explain that, to farmers, Christmas trees are just another crop, much like corn or tomatoes. The main differences are that we grow them for a few years instead of just one season, and after we harvest the crop replacement trees are planted. It’s a practical system that sustains tree populations, provides die-hard traditionalists with cut Christmas trees, and eases the minds of environmentalists.
Dozens of varieties are cut and sold for Christmas trees, but two are standouts for longevity and value. Noble Firs are the longest lasting trees. In our dry climate this is definitely the tree for folks “putting up the tree” the first days of December. Majestic, swooping branches filled with thick, long-lasting, soft needles make it the most desirable of Christmas trees. Its sturdy branches easily support the heaviest ornaments.
Longevity of a cut Noble Fir comes from the amount of water this tree can hold within its trunk. However, this hydrating fluid retention adds considerably to the weight of the tree. I sell Noble Firs up to 12 feet tall; taller than that they are just too heavy to handle. Even the 12-foot models require special stands to hold them upright and straight.
Douglas Firs are perfectly shaped trees with soft branches that form an almost solid mass of needles. They last about two weeks indoors, possibly three if you buy the freshest tree on the lot. This tree is grown at lower elevations so it grows twice as fast as its Noble cousin. This means that Douglas crops can be harvested much sooner than other trees, which results in a lower cost per tree. Great value and superb fragrance are its benefits. This is by far my best selling tree the two weeks before December 25th.
Freshness is everything when choosing a Christmas tree. Here are my 6 tips for choosing the freshest tree and maintaining a fresh appearance:
Tip 1: Place a needle between your thumb and forefinger and bend it. A needle from a fresh tree will bend rather than break. It will have a strong fragrance and good color.
Tip 2: A fresh tree should have good weight, an indication that the tree has plenty of moisture left in the trunk and limbs. The larger the trunk the more moisture the tree can hold; just make sure the trunk will fit into your tree stand. Preferably, you want a tree that has sap still flowing from the fresh cut on the trunk.
Tip 3: If you are not ready to decorate the tree right away, keep it outdoors in a cool spot, protected from the drying effects of sun and wind. Make a fresh, diagonal cut near the base of the trunk and immediately place it in a large container of lukewarm water. If the water level is allowed to drop below the cut, a seal will form and a fresh cut will be necessary to keep the tree hydrated.
Tip 4: Trees are thirsty. Once set up indoors they may drink a pint or more of water a day; so check the water level daily and supply fresh warm water as needed. A tree will absorb warm water more easily than cold water. I highly recommend adding a tree preservative to the water. Preservatives really do help trees retain their freshness and needles longer.
Tip 5: Placement is crucial. Place the tree away from south-facing windows and close, remove, or divert any sources of heat blowing directly onto the tree. Also, keep it away from fireplaces and stoves. In just a few days, any of these warming devices will draw all the moisture out of a tree.
Tip 6: Use a Christmas tree bag! Once you use this super-sized trash bag and experience the ease of clean up when the season is over, it becomes a must each year. It's well worth $2-3 to reduce the aggravation of persistent needles that dig into the carpet, and the nooks and crannies of every room in the house!
Handling hundreds of trees over the next two weeks, nursery staffs will know which trees are the freshest on the lot. Ask for help; we love pointing out which trees have just been opened and are the freshest.
One last note: With the economy still in recovery, retailers are holding inventories very close. I predict the market will run out of trees this year because none of us wants to risk having trees left over on Christmas Eve. My recommendation is to buy your tree before December 18; after that you will start to see shortages. Leave the tree in the garage, north side of the house in water until ready to bring indoors. This should ensure a tree that positively adds to the holiday spirit.
Until next week, I'll see you at the garden center.
Throughout the week Ken Lain is at Watters Garden Center, 1815 W. Iron Springs Road, Prescott, and can be contacted through his web site at www.wattersonline.com. Ken says, "My personal mission is to help local homeowners garden better in our mountain landscapes."