What makes a great Christmas tree? How to buy a tree that won’t leave you with sagging branches and a floor full of pine needles Christmas morning.
For me, the most exciting day of the holiday season isn’t Christmas or Christmas Eve, but the day I bring home the Christmas tree. That’s my official start of the holiday, and not the day after Halloween, as retailers would have us believe.
For most of my life I’ve had a fresh cut tree at Christmas . But early in life there was that one year when my mother, sick of the holiday whirlwind every year, decided to permanently check one thing off her yearly list, and brought home an artificial tree from a department store. Plastic! A plastic tree! At least it was green and not decked out like a spaceship. You couldn’t imagine my disappointment – the scent of fresh pine replaced by the scent of freshly molded poly vinyl chloride.
Basically, that “tree” was astro turf wrapped around heavy duty pipe cleaners which hung from holes in a brown pole. On the upside, one could bend the branches into any position they liked, and it didn’t take me long to fashion one or two into question marks when I could get away with it. Oh, how I longed for the smell of pine, for sap on my hands, for frequent watering, for cleaning up dead needles well into February. Really, I did.
I don’t want to condemn anyone for buying an artificial Christmas tree – they’re useful for those with allergies to the real thing, or for those who don’t have the physical capacity to seek out, heave, and decorate a live tree every year. But for the rest of us, those who thrive on the scent of fresh pine, the annual trek to the Christmas tree farm to cut our own is a beloved holiday tradition. Nothing beats the real thing.
Besides tradition, there are good reasons to buy from a tree farm: You’re supporting local business and local farming, and your tree will stay fresh much longer than a tree which may have been cut a week or two earlier and trucked many miles to your community. And it’s in the transport that many trees get damaged. A discerning eye is a necessity for anyone buying a fresh cut tree on a parking lot or sidewalk.
Pointers for buying a cut Christmas tree:
- For new homeowners: Know what size space your tree will occupy in your new home, especially if you have low ceilings. Stand where you plan on putting the tree, and note how much space is above your head. Also make a note of the maximum width your tree can occupy (use a tape measure). When you’re buying a tree, they can look one heck of a lot smaller than they do when you get home – I can’t tell you how many times in my early years, living in small apartments, that my enthusiasm got the best of me and I brought home a tree which practically had to be sawn in half.
- Take into account that when your tree is in its stand, it will be a few inches taller, and if you top your tree with ornaments like an angel or a star, even taller still.
- Measure the width of your tree stand before buying your tree. If the base of the tree won’t fit in your stand, you’ll have to saw sections off until it does
- On the lot, pick up the tree and shake it. Look beneath the tree – how many needles are on the ground? If the tree is already shedding, it’s drying, and once it’s moved inside your heated home, that drying will commence at a furious rate.
- Get your nose in there and take a good whiff of the tree. A tree that’s been cut recently will still smell fresh.
- Take a spin around the tree and make sure there are no gaping holes in it or that one side hasn’t been flattened or damaged during transport. Small imperfections can be hidden with ornaments and lights, but big holes are a challenge.
- If the tree isn’t going right into the stand when you get home, store it in a cool, shaded place outdoors. When the stump is first cut, a seal of dried sap forms over the open tissue in an attempt to heal the wound. This seal restricts the ability of the cut tree to pull water through its tissues. When it’s time for the tree to go inside, make a straight cut across its base about 1/2″ from the bottom to expose fresh wood, so the tree can absorb water when it’s in the stand. It will stay fresh much longer.
- A Christmas tree will use a gallon of water or more in the first 24 hours and at least one quart a day after that, so check your stand daily. Water keeps the needles on the branches, the boughs rigid and the tree fragrant.
- Keep your Christmas tree a safe distance from all heat sources: baseboards, heat vents, radiators, portable heaters, fireplaces, and your TV set. Heat sources are obviously a source of potential fire, but they also make the tree dry out quickly.