O Christmas tree: so many fresh choices


Selecting a fresh cut Christmas tree has become the highlight of the holiday season for many families. Spending the day at your favorite “cut-your-own” Christmas tree farm, or shopping at a Christmas tree sales lot creates memories for families that last a lifetime.

Selecting a Christmas tree takes some planning. Before you head out to the farm or tree lot, make sure you know just what size tree can fit in your home. Measure the height of your ceiling and the maximum width for the tree. Remember to subtract the height of your tree stand and tree topper you want to use. This will ensure that you purchase the maximum tree height and width to accommodate your space.

Just like a trip to the grocery store, when buying a Christmas tree, you have some choices to make: overall appearance, color, needle length, branch characteristics, needle retention and price are just some of the items to consider.

The most common question people ask is, which species of tree should I buy? There is no right answer to that question. The right Christmas tree is very much a matter of personal taste. Consumers should spend some time learning which species they prefer.

Look for fresh trees that have a crisp fragrance, and the needles should stay intact and not fall off the tree. To test for freshness gently bend one of the tree’s needles between your thumb and fore finger. The needle should bend and not snap. If purchasing a precut tree, lift the tree up a few inches, and then tap it on the ground. If brown needles from deep inside the tree fall or lodge in the branches, no need to worry, as this is a natural condition as conifers or evergreen trees do drop their old needles. However, if the tree sheds an abundant number of green needles from the outer part of the branches, then the tree is probably dry or not fresh.

While all Christmas trees are needle-bearing evergreens, there is a great deal of variation among the trees. There also can be considerable variation between trees of the same type. This largely depends on where the trees were grown, and how they were produced. In Ohio, more than 90 percent of the Christmas trees marketed are one of seven species: Scotch pine, Eastern white pine, Colorado spruce, Douglas fir, Fraser fir, Canaan fir and White or Concolor fir. Each of these species has something unique to offer consumers, whether it is the length of the needles, the aroma, or the color of the tree.

Here is a brief description of Ohio’s seven most popular Christmas tree species:

Pinus sylvestris or Scotch pines are the most popular Christmas pine tree grown and sold in Ohio and throughout the country. Needles are 1 to 3 inches long and are somewhat stiff and twisted. The tree has long branches capable of supporting many decorations and heavy ornaments. Scotch pines have average needle retention of approximately three to four weeks and have a strong pine scent.

Pinus strobus or Eastern white pine has soft flexible 2-to-5-inch length needles. They also have slender, flexible branches capable of supporting a few small decorations. Like the Scotch pines they have an average needle retention of approximately three to four weeks. White pines have a nice, pleasant pine aroma.

Picea pungens or Colorado spruces and have 1 to 1.5-inch needles that are very sharply pointed and stiff. The colors of this tree vary from blue to green. Colorado spruce branches are relatively stiff and bumpy and will support many decorations and heavy ornaments. Needle retention on Colorado spruce may vary; however, the average is only around one to two weeks. The sharp needles may make it an inappropriate choice for homes with small children.

Abies fraseri or Fraser firs has half-inch to 1-inch flat needles. This species has a strong natural symmetry and has strong, smooth branches to support decorations with relatively soft foliage. This tree has an average needle retention of approximately 4 – 6 weeks and produces the balsam aroma commonly associated with the Christmas holiday.

Abies balsamea var. phanerolepis or Canaan firs is a relatively new Christmas tree variety that is rapidly gaining acceptance by both Christmas tree growers and consumers. These trees have 3/4 to 1 1/2-inch needles. Like the Fraser fir, the species has attractive dark green, relatively soft foliage, and has stiff branches to support decorations. It has an average needle retention of approximately 3 – 4 weeks and produces a pleasant balsam aroma.

Pseudotsuga menziesii or Douglas fir is not a true fir. The needles are flat 1 to 1.5 inches in length. When the needles are crushed, this fir gives off a mild, almost sweet smell. It has an average needle retention of approximately three to four weeks.

Abies concolor or White or Concolor fir has layered and a slightly wild growing look to it. This tree has needle retention rivaling the Fraser fir of four to six weeks. The strong citrus or somewhat soapy scent is unique to this tree.

Before setting up your fresh or precut Christmas tree, depending on type of the tree stand, remove approximately one inch off the base of the trunk. For safety reasons make all cuts outdoors. Use either a sharp hand tree saw or power equipment suitable for making tree cuts. If you have the drilled hole stand do not remove or cut anything off the base of the tree.

Secure the tree in the tree stand within 30 minutes to an hour after cutting or drilled and fill the stand with water. Sufficient water helps the tree keep its moisture, needles, and fragrance. Check the tree’s water supply daily as it may consume up to two pints to a gallon of water each day while it is in the home. Try to keep your tree away from fireplaces, heat registers, television sets, and other heat generating sources as these sources will hasten the process of trees drying out.

Note: Not included in this article is Plantus plasticia and Plantus fakeus otherwise known as fake or artificial trees. (A little horticulture humor.)

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