For some people, the holidays aren’t the holidays without a tree loaded with lights and ornaments. For many gardeners, the tree of choice is a real evergreen.
Granted, artificial trees have become more popular. Forty years ago, they looked like what they were – artificial. Today, artificial trees have a look that approaches a live tree. Except they tend to be too perfect.
Let’s face it, artificial trees have several advantages over real trees: They don’t shed needles everywhere (that you find three years later wedged in a chair cushion), they can be pre-strung with lights (no dealing with tangled strands), and assembly can be as easy as snap and lock. Tear-down can be even simpler by throwing a plastic bag over the top and storing it in the basement.
These “convenience trees,” like fast food, can be acceptable but are nothing like the real thing.
Real trees aren’t perfect. That’s part of the allure. Like humans, each is different.
Real trees smell, well, real. Sure, you can buy artificial evergreen scent to match the artificial tree. It’s still not the same. Fresh evergreen trees have that woodsy, outdoors aroma that can’t be bottled and will linger in the recesses of your mind for years.
While it’s hard to say that harvesting and selling real trees is good for the environment, they are grown on marginal farmland that probably would erode if not for the trees. And next spring, seedlings will be planted where the harvested trees once stood, and the five- to 10-year process will start over.
And once the season is over, the trees are put to other uses. Some are chipped and used as mulch. Others are used in ponds and lakes for fish habitats. Branches can be cut for winter mulches and sun protection. Discarded trees also can be set up for wildlife.
Years ago, fresh trees were cut in early October and stored in coolers until the holiday season. These days, most fresh trees are cut sometime in mid-November and quickly shipped to lots.
So what do you look for in a real tree? It boils down to four things:
1. Pliable needles that don’t cascade off of the tree when you tap it on the ground, like Charlie Brown’s tree. Bend some of the needles in your hand. They shouldn’t break unless it’s well below freezing.
2. A good green, though some trees are tinted or dyed. Pines, once the darlings of the Christmas tree industry and now a distant second to the firs, often are colored because they naturally yellow in the fall. Firs, while more expensive, have a distinct classic look and feel, and seldom are dyed. Firs have depth of branches, which means the needles go all the way to the trunk instead of clustering on the ends like pines. Firs also have strong branches.
3. Stick your nose in the tree, or crush a few needles in your hand, and smell. Does it smell like an evergreen? If it doesn’t have a strong scent, the tree might not be as fresh as you’d like.
4. The right size. Measure the height of the room and subtract about 24 to 30 inches. That’s how high you want your tree. Remember to allow for an inch removal of the butt end so the tree will start absorbing water.
Four simple things. That’s it.
While a real tree will take more time and effort, remember that you’re creating memories.
A guide to Christmas tree type, selection, care and cleanup