With row upon row of Christmas trees at the local nursery or stand, it can be overwhelming to pick the perfect evergreen. Christmas tree expert Clarke Gernon shares his tips on choosing the conifer that will grace your home.
How fresh is your tree?
Doing a freshness test on the tree is the best way to test the freshness. Green needles on fresh fir trees break crisply when bent sharply with the fingers — much like a fresh carrot. Pines have different indicators because of the fibrous nature of their needles compared to firs. The needles on fresh pines do not break unless they are very dry.
Look for other indicators of dryness or deterioration: excessive needle loss, discolored foliage, musty odor, needle pliability, and wrinkled bark. A good rule-of-thumb is, when in doubt about the freshness of a tree, select another one. If none of the trees on the lot look fresh, go to another lot.
Keep the tree in a cool shady place like the garage or porch until ready to bring indoors and decorate.
Then saw a thin disk (1/4 inch) off the trunk prior to placing the tree in a water holding stand. Make a cut perpendicular to the axis of the stem, do not cut at an angle or a v-shaped cut.
Make sure to place the tree in its water-holding stand within a few hours after making a cut to the trunk or a sap seal will form and prevent the tree from absorbing water.
Your stand must be able to hold enough water for the size of the tree. A good rule-of-thumb is one quart capacity for every inch of diameter of the trunk.
Check the water level often in the first few days you have the tree. It will absorb the most water after a fresh cut is made off the stump.
Make sure the tree is displayed in a place away from heat sources (registers, fireplaces, tv sets, and computers) and draft sources. Always check electrical devises like lights and other decorations before placing on the tree.
Douglas Fir — This tree has soft needles that are dark green/blue green in color and are approximately 1 - 1 ½ inches in length. The Douglas fir needles radiate in all directions from the branch. When crushed, these needles have a sweet fragrance. They are one of the top major Christmas tree species in the U.S.
Noble Fir — These needles turn upward, exposing the lower branches. Known for its beauty, the noble fir has a long keep ability, and its stiff branches make it a good tree for heavy ornaments, as well as providing excellent greenery for wreaths and garland. This is the species that was presented to First Lady Laura Bush and is in the Blue Room of the White House.
Fraser Fir — The Fraser fir branches turn slightly upward. They have good form and needle-retention. They are dark blue-green in color. They have a pleasant scent, and excellent shipping characteristics as well.
Balsam Fir— These needles are 3/4 - 1 ½ in. in length and last a very long time. This tree has a dark-green appearance and retains its pleasing fragrance throughout the Christmas season.
Colorado Blue Spruce — Often used for stuffing pine-pillows, these sharp needles are 1 - 1 ½ in. in length. This species is bluish-gray in color and has a bad odor when needles are crushed. This Christmas tree has good symmetrical form and has an attractive blue foliage. It also has good needle retention.
White Spruce — The White Spruce is excellent for ornaments; it’s short, stiff needles are ½ - 3/4 in. long and have a blunt tip. They are bluish-green - green in color, but have a bad aroma when needles are crushed. They have excellent foliage color and have a good, natural shape. The needle retention is better in a White Spruce than it is among other spruces.
Scotch Pine — Approximately 1 inch in length, these needles don’t even fall when they’re dry, providing excellent needle retention. The color is a bright green. The most common Christmas tree in the U.S., the scotch pine has an excellent survival rate, is easy to replant, has great keep-ability and will remain fresh throughout the holiday season.
White Pine — The largest pine in the U.S., the White Pine has soft, flexible needles and is bluish-green in color. Needles are 2 ½ - 5 in. long. White Pines have good needle retention, but have little aroma. They aren’t recommended for heavy ornaments.