Top 5 Tips: Picking the Best Live Christmas Tree
With Christmas less than 2 weeks away (!) many readers will head out this weekend in search of the perfect live Christmas tree. If you are among the many that will wade on to ‘cut your own’ farms and retail lots this weekend, be sure to arm yourself with these facts. As you part with your hard earned cash you are investing not just in a large Christmas decoration but, for many, a tradition that has meaning beyond monetary value.
Be sure to approach the buying (and cutting/hauling) process as a fun project. If you are taking family members with you be sure to take your time: stop for a hot chocolate and try not to rush this experience. I often see families engage in Christmas tree buying much the same way as they would buy a family pet. In a way, a live Christmas tree IS a pet.
Prices shown are for average sized trees, usually 2 to 2.2 meters or 6 to 7 feet tall.
1. What do you want in a live tree? Determine what you are looking for in a live tree. Here is a short list of the most popular evergreens that you will find on retail lots and Christmas tree farms:
a. Scots Pine. Note, not a ‘Scotch’ pine. This was the biggest seller for many years, until the Fraser Fir came along. It retains its needles quite well, displays ornaments and lights with lots of space between its branches and tends to take up lots of horizontal space – they are wider than fir trees. Check out the trunk of your favourite specimen for straightness or you will curse it before you stand it upright in a tree stand. Price is lower than most fir trees, in the $20 to $30 range.
b. Fraser Fir. The #1 best seller in eastern Canada. Retains needles very well, has a soft evergreen scent, is soft to the touch, features dark green needles with a silvery underside, very dense foliage/branching and the trunk is generally straight. Classic ‘spruce’ type, evergreen shape. Price range $40 to $70.
c. Balsam Fir. A native tree to Central and Eastern Canada, Balsam has good needle retention, reasonably dense foliage and a great evergreen scent. It is lightweight and generally has a straight trunk. Price range $30 to $50
d. Spruce. Colorado spruce and white spruce are often available on Christmas tree lots. They smell great and are often the perfect shape, but needle retention is a problem. Unless you are bringing it indoors for 5 days or less, I recommend that you pass on spruce.
There are other evergreens out there that fit the bill, but those listed represent over 95% of the trees sold in Canada.
2. Fresh. A Christmas tree can be a fire hazard. How do you minimize this risk? By a fresh tree in the first place and keep it hydrated. Give it the ‘squeeze’ test before you buy. Squeeze a needle or needle cluster between your thumb and finger: if it snaps, pass on it. If it bends as you put pressure on it, you have a winner. Be sure to use a deep-dish stand that holds at least a couple of litres of water. Be sure to fill the reservoir up daily, especially the day that you put the tree up. Place a fire extinguisher near your tree, just in case.
3. Cut the butt. Fred Somerville, president of Somerville Nurseries/Kris Kringle Christmas trees in Alliston, Ontario and the largest grower of Christmas trees in the province, suggests that, “Before you put your tree up, be sure to cut the butt end of it with a pruning saw to open up the capillaries of the tree and help it absorb water from the reservoir.”
4. Get it straight. Note my comments in #1. I can’t over emphasize the need to buy as straight a tree as possible. I speak from experience and anyone who has tried putting up a tree with a ‘wow’ or hook in it knows what I am talking about. If you happen to have a tippy tree, consider extending a string from a hook in the ceiling to the leader of the tree to secure it in an upright position.
5. After care. Fred emphasizes that you need to water your tree daily and consider how you will dispose of your tree when you’re done with it. I take my tree out of doors right after Christmas and place it in the garden, minus the ornaments. I hang suet balls on it and let the birds use it for protection against winter wind. It adds some ‘winter interest’ in the garden and come spring, I cut it up for the ‘green’ pick up at the end of the driveway.
And finally, Fred reminds us that, “Real trees are renewable, recyclable and 100% biodegradable.” All true.