The Christmas Tree
This is my site Written by Geoff on December 1, 1999 – 9:26 am

For many, the selection of a Christmas Tree has been a family tradition. In our household, it is not unusual for the selection process to take most of the day, require traveling hundreds of miles, and involving the whole family. Our dog Madison even likes to tag along. We have had just about every type of tree imaginable, firs, pines, spruces and even a hemlock. The one common denominator they all had was, they had to be big and full. One year, when we were living in an upstairs apartment, the tree we bought would not fit up the stairs and we had to pull it up with a rope through the front window. One year we learned the hard way how quickly a hemlock will shed it’s needles and had to go out and buy a second tree. 

Christmas Trees date back to Roman times. Martin Luther, in the 10th century, is credited with being the first to decorate a tree indoors. Hessian troops introduced the Christmas Tree into the United States during the Revolutionary War. President Pierce introduced the Christmas Tree into the White House in 1856 and the first National Tree was lighted in 1923. Now, every state has their own tree and lighting ceremonies. Probably the most noteworthy tree lighting is the one at Rockefeller Center. 

Now adays, artificial trees have become very popular. Some people go this route as a way of protecting the environment. But since they are a petroleum based product that consumes vast amounts of non-renewable natural resources to produce, this reason has little merit. Also, remember, plastic trees have only a life span of six years in the home but will last for centuries in the landfill. Paul Bowles in his fine article Christmas Tree Care states, “Personally, I think the driving motivation behind folks buying artificial trees instead of live cut trees is the specter of the dreaded needle drop.” Remember then, when making your choice, do you want to help the environment or fill a landfill with useless trash? For our family, the only choice is between a living cut tree or living tree. 

A word of caution in choosing between a cut and living tree, a living tree is definitely not for everyone. They require careful planning and a lot more work than a cut tree. According to the National Christmas Tree council, to use a living tree successfully, you need to observe the following points:

  • The adaptability of the species to your yard should be considered. Many species are shipped outside their natural area and may not be adaptable to other areas.
  • The tree should be stored in an unheated, sheltered area such as a garage or porch, out of the wind and sun. Do not expose the tree to freezing temperatures at any time.
  • The tree will need adequate water. The root ball or soil should be kept slightly damp but not flooded. Wrap the root ball of a balled tree in plastic or place in a tub while it is in the house.
  • Once inside, the tree should be placed in a cool area out of direct light. Please remember though, that since this is a living plant, it still needs some light to survive.
  • Live trees may be decorated, but with care. If lights are used, they must not give off any heat.
  • Do not remove the tree directly from a warm house out into freezing temperatures. Instead, move to a sheltered area first for several days.
  • If the ground is unfrozen, the tree may be replanted. The spot to be dug may be mulched to prevent freezing. Plant as soon as possible.
  • Do not remove the burlap and strapping (unless it is plastic). This keeps the root ball solid and secure. In the instance of a plastic cover, cut the cord and roll down the plastic at least half way prior to planting. Tap the tree container of a potted tree and remove prior to planting. Do not attempt to remove soil from the root system. Earth removed from the original hole should be back filled around the root ball. Mulch heavily over the top of the planted root ball to prevent it from freezing. Water only as needed: a flooded tree may not survive.
  • Stake the trees to prevent wind tipping or damage during the first growing season.

Our family prefers the cut living tree that is biodegradable and easily recyclable. In our area in zone 5 in Southwestern Lower Michigan, we have just seen too many trees that did not survive the harsh Winters. With care and proper selection, a living cut tree can last a very long time. The type of tree you select has an important bearing on how long it will last. Some trees are much more prone to dropping their needles than others. This is why the Hemlocks are seldom sold as cut Christmas Trees. True Firs (as opposed to Douglas Firs) hold their needles the best and are the most fragrant, followed by Red-Cedar’s and Juniper’s. Douglas Firs, Spruces, and Pines vary in needle retention based on quality, how long it was cut before placing in water, and temperature. Some trees are even painted to help them hold their needles and color. You can avoid this by buying locally cut trees or better yet cutting your own. 

Christmas Trees are grown in all 50 states. The Southeast is best known for their Fraser Firs, the West and Southwest for the stately Douglas Fir, Engelman Spruces, and Lodgepole Pines, and the North and East for the fine Eastern Spruces and White Pines. Most Christmas Trees today are grown on large plantations, in fact, over one million acres are planted in evergreens. Two thousand trees are planted per acre with 34-36 million trees being produced annually. California, Oregon, Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina produce most of the trees. This is why most trees have to be cut weeks ahead of time and shipped long distances. 

The best-selling trees are the Scotch Pine, Douglas Fir, Noble Fir, Fraser Fir, Balsam Fir, Virginia Fir, and White Pine. Most of these can be found on any retail or cut your own lot farm. A nation wide listing of many of these locations can be found at Christmas Tree USA http://www.christmas-tree.com/real/index.html. The University of Georgia provides a good description of most trees at Bugwood USA http://www.bugwood.caes.uga.edu/christmas/html/species.html#species

Whether you select an artificial tree, living cut tree, or a living tree, by all means, try to make selecting the tree a family event, take your time, and enjoy the experience. As we mentioned last year, do not be afraid to experiment with different species of trees, after all Cherry and Hawthorne trees were once very popular indoor holiday trees. We have even seen Weeping Figs and Norfolk Island Pines used as Christmas Trees.

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Modified: March 8, 2009 at 9:28 am UTC

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