How to Choose a Christmas Tree
By Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor, University of Vermont

According to the National Christmas Tree Association, 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 percent) 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. Trees always seem to look smaller in the great outdoors than when we get
them into our homes!  This simple step can save money buying a tree too large,
and extra cutting once the tree is inside.

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 water.

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

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 holidays.

Related Stories:
Grow Your Own Christmas Trees
Mail Order Christmas Trees
The Heart of New England
Celebrating the unique character & culture of Maine ~ New Hampshire ~ Vermont
The Heart of New England
How to Choose a Christmas Tree
©The Heart of New England online magazine
...celebrating the unique character & culture of Maine, New Hampshire & Vermont!
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