Thanksgiving and Black Friday are both behind us, and Christmas tree lots have popped up all around. Friends and neighbors often ask me which variety is best. That’s difficult to answer because they’re all good, hardy species. It all depends on your taste, which, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.
I can share with you information on each species of tree sold in our area, as well as how to test a tree for freshness and how to keep it fresh once you get it home. Then it’s up to you and your family to choose what’s best for you.
The most common species in our area are:
• Firs: Douglas, Fraser, Balsam. (All have soft, flat needles with rounded tips).
• Spruces: White, Norway, Blue. (All have short, sharp needles that grow thickly on the branches.)
• Pines: White (Long, soft needles that grow five to a cluster), Scotch or Scots (Stiff, short needles that grow two to a cluster).
The best way to be sure you buy the freshest tree possible is to go to a local Christmas tree farm and either cut it yourself or accompany a staff member out to select the “perfect” tree and watch it being cut.
Even pre-cut trees at a local Christmas tree farm are usually fresher than those sold on street corners or vacant lots. Those vendors buy their trees from growers who may be miles away and cut their trees months ago.
Before finalizing the sale of any tree, do these three, easy field freshness tests:
• Bend a few needles. Fresh firs snap, pines don’t.
• Pull on a branch to be sure the needles are secure.
• Rap the trunk butt on the ground to see if the needles fall.
Even the freshest tree will be a sorry sight if it isn’t straight, so hold the butt flat on the ground and check the trunk to be sure it’s straight up and down. Otherwise, you’ll have to invest in a special tree stand that swivels to make the tree appear straight.
Even a freshly cut tree can dry out if you don’t care for it properly between the time you get it home and Christmas. As soon as you get your tree home, cut a half-inch off the bottom and place the tree in a bucket of water. Keep it in a cool, sheltered place until you’re ready to take it indoors. Then put it in the garage a few days before you’re planning to take it inside so it can acclimate to the warmer interior environment. Don’t be too hasty to take the tree indoors. The warmer temperature could shorten its life.
There are certainly some unusual choices. Douglas fir grows wild here, so is our classic Christmas tree. I have seen neither balsam nor Fraser fir. White and silver firs are sometimes available. Blue spruce is only available as very expensive live trees. Korean spruce is sometimes available as a live tree as well. Monterey pine, which is native a short distance away, is the only pine we get. We also get giant redwood. The native coastal redwood does not last long once cut. One of the more unusual trees we get here is the Arizona cypress. It is never seen in Christmas tree lots, but they are grown on farms, apparently because there are those who really like them.