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Christmas Trees: Helmut’s Picks and Tips

helmutHelmut Jaehnigen has personally selected Christmas trees for Behnke’s for many years, always insisting on the freshest trees available. Fresher trees hold their needles longer, and supply that nostalgic, one-of-a-kind fragrance we all associate with a picture-perfect holiday setting. We asked him to give us his own thoughts on the best cut Christmas trees.

A Fraser Fir is definitely my first choice for a cut Christmas tree. Its soft, shiny, dark green needles, wonderful fragrance, and straight trunk make it a winner. The well-spaced, strong branches make it easy to reach into the interior of the tree to decorate, and the soft needles are kind to your hands. But best of all, a Fraser fir will stay fresher inside the house than any other tree. I often keep mine until the end of January, and it doesn’t even drop its needles when I take it outside. As its name implies, the Fraser fir belongs to the fir family and is native to only a few mountain tops in North Carolina with elevations between 4 and 6 thousand feet. It can’t be grown below 3 thousand feet because it needs the cooler climate and good drainage of the mountains.

The Canadian Balsam Fir is a close cousin to the Fraser and also has a nice straight trunk. Canadian Balsam has a good piney fragrance and its needles are shiny and soft, although they may begin to drop by New Year’s Eve. Not a bad trade-off for a less expensive tree.

The majestic Noble Fir comes from the cool Pacific Northwest, generally from Washington state. It needs the mist that comes from the ocean to develop its strong branches and sturdy trunk. It has long, well-spaced, stiff branches of shimmering silvery green that will support even the heaviest ornaments. In addition, the Noble fir has a straight trunk, a fragrance reminiscent of a woodland forest, and long-lasting needles.

The Douglas Fir has long needles and a sweet orange-like fragrance that fills the room. This tree is long lasting and keeps its needles well. Because it is full and compact, only the outermost branches hold ornaments, making fewer ornaments go a long way.

Blue Spruce, the elegant aristocrat, has storybook appeal – branches are stiff, easy to decorate, and strong enough to hold very heavy ornaments. The needles are short and beautifully blue. The trade-off here is that the breathtakingly beautiful blue spruce is more expensive and will not last as long as the Fraser -but it is a good choice for luxurious color and a perfect Christmas tree shape.

White Pines provide you with extremely long, soft, almost feathery needles. The tree is very full and compact, and again, the decorating is limited to the outside branches. It is less fragrant than firs, with a piney scent.

No matter which tree you decide is right for your home, plan to purchase it as soon as possible. Almost all trees are cut in November, and the sooner you begin to care for your tree, the longer it will last. At Behnke’s, we spray our trees daily to keep them as fresh as possible. We’ll carefully put a net around your tree, before we load it on your car, so that the branches won’t be damaged during transport. We’ll also make a fresh cut at the bottom of the trunk so your tree can absorb the most water.

At home, you can plunge your tree into a bucket of water (with an added tree preservative, such as Prolong®) and leave it in a shady spot outdoors, with the net still intact. Cut the netting off the day before you want to set up your tree so that the branches can relax. When you’re ready to bring it in the house, you will have a fresh, fragrant and well-hydrated tree that will hang on to its needles longer than you thought possible.

Buying Christmas trees and greens has always been a most enjoyable job. The trees and greens at Behnke’s are grown in three major regions. For Fraser firs one would visit farms around Grandfather Mountain in North Carolina, above 3 thousand feet. Douglas firs are grown almost locally, in Western Pennsylvania. Balsam firs are plantation grown in Eastern Canada. Ours come from a family-owned plantation where everybody gives their trees personal care. The result is an almost picture-perfect tree.

by Helmut Jaehnigen, Woody Plants Specialist 

Stephanie Fleming was raised at Behnke’s Nurseries in Beltsville. Her Mom, Sonja, was one of Albert & Rose Behnke’s four children. She was weeding from the moment she could walk and hiding as soon as she was old enough to run, so many weeds, so little time. Although she quickly learned how to pull out a perennial and get taken off of weed pulling duty.

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