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Getting the Most Out of a Fresh-Cut Christmas Tree

articles_2011_Kory-ChaseWhat are the keys to a long-lasting Christmas tree this season if you are planning on enjoying a cut tree instead of an artificial tree?

Well, think of a Christmas tree as sort of a large cut flower. Different types of trees hold their needles for shorter or longer times, just as, say, a cut mum lasts longer than a cut rose in a flower arrangement.  Freshness counts, water is important, cool temperatures and some humidity in the house are better than hot and dry.

First: Christmas trees are grown on farms, or “plantations” specifically for harvest as Christmas trees. They are sheared and shaped to make a full, Christmas-tree shaped tree. When my wife was growing up in central Wisconsin, one of her summer jobs as a teenager was shearing Christmas trees with a machete.  Ah, the good old days.  Because of the short sales season, Christmas trees are harvested in advance, bundled, and sent by truck to the garden centers and Christmas tree sales lots, so,

  • Important Point Number One: buy it early, and get it in water.  It certainly isn’t going to get any fresher sitting around on the tree lot.

Species of trees favored for Christmas trees have changed over the years. Balsam fir, Scotch Pine, and White Pine used to be the most common, and they are still used but less frequently.  Balsam firs are inexpensive, but drop needles quickly. White pine branches bend easily and are hard to decorate, and Scotch/Scots Pines don’t have as nice a form as other trees.

Behnke’s carries Douglas fir, Fraser fir, and Noble fir.  I find that Doug fir sheds needles more readily than Fraser or Noble firs, but is a lot better than Balsam fir. Fraser and Noble firs have stiff branches that hold heavy decorations well, while Douglas is the most flexible.

Doug fir and Fraser fir are a deep green, while the Noble is more blue green. About fragrance: Miri, our greens buyer says: “Douglas fir and Noble fir are fragrant and smell of citrus to me, with the Noble smelling more like grapefruit to my nose and the Douglas more orangey.” Noble are the most expensive of the trees we offer and are rapidly gaining in popularity.

  • Important Point Number Two: buy a tree that lasts—Fraser or Noble fir.

Because the tree may have been cut weeks earlier, it is good to saw about an inch off of the base of the trunk before placing it in water.  This helps the tree take up water better. We will do that for you before we load it into/on to your car. Then get it home and get the base of the trunk in warm water!

  • Important Point Number Three: check daily to see if the tree needs more water.  It will absorb the most water in the first week, then it will slow down. Fresh trees with flexible branches and soft needles will absorb less water than an older, drier tree. Don’t let the tree dry out, or you wind up back in your original situation, having to re-cut the base. Hard to do when it’s already full of ornaments.
  • Important Point Number Four: you can add a tree preservative to the water, either a commercial preparation, available from Behnke’s, or there are recipes for homemade concoctions on the internet. Nearly everyone recommends using them, but they likely are not necessary. Can’t hurt, might help. The really important point is keeping water in the tree stand.
  • Important Point Number Five: what did the Christmas tree say when it met the candle?  “Whoooosh!”  Keep your tree away from open flames, keep it well-watered, and after Christmas, take it outside before it gets dry.  It’s a Christmas tree, not an Easter tree.  After Christmas, leave it in the stand on the patio to give shelter to birds, or cut off the branches and lay them across your beds of pansies for winter protection.

Larry Hurley, perennials specialist for Behnke Nurseries (now retired), started with Behnke’s in1984. Larry enjoys travel, food and photography. He and his wife Carolyn have visited Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, Brazil, South Korea and much of Europe. Their home is on a shady lot where a lot of perennials have met their Maker over the years.

This Post Has One Comment

  1. Ah, good question. Anyone that knows me would tell you that when it comes to questions about tools, I’m not of much use. Best shovel to lean on, that sort of thing.

    As I understand it, using machetes to shear Christmas trees has given way to (probably gas powered) hedge trimmers. The pruning I was talking about with the machetes was back in the early 1960’s. My wife said it was “just a machete.” This was before OSHA, which I imagine looked somewhat dimly on teens whacking away at trees with machetes.

    You might drop your question to the National Christmas Tree Association, info@realchristmastrees.org

    They have a blog where they do Q and A. It would be interesting to see what they have to say on the whole shearing thing; maybe they have some suggestions on the best manual tool to use.

    Larry Hurley

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