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Choosing A Natural Tree For The Holidays

For those of us who celebrate a more “natural” Christmas by using a real tree, there is no more telling sign that the festive season has arrived than the intoxicating aroma of a fresh Christmas tree in the house. If brought indoors and decorated too early, a natural Christmas tree will be pretty dry by the time New Year’s rolls around, which is about the time most people take down their trees and other decorations. In my house the tree is put up a good week or so before Christmas and it is up until after the New Year’s celebrations are over. By that time the tree has been up for nearly three weeks and will have begun to dry out and shed some needles – it will have reached its “best before” date!

Choosing a fresh Christmas tree is somewhat more challenging than it used to be because, like all other areas of the retail world, there is a large selection of product from which to choose. Many Christmas tree vendors – particularly the garden centres – have the trees hung from the ceiling, and the trees will have opened up – not scrunched up and tied like they are in some tree lots. This method of displaying the trees allows customers to see the thickness and symmetry of each tree so that the “perfect” one can be selected.

There is a large number of species now grown for Christmas trees and each one has its own distinctive needle size, colour and texture. Pines are always in abundance, although the Scotch pine that used to be the standard for natural Christmas trees is no longer as popular. It does have lovely long needles which dry and stiffen as the tree dries out – in fact they become needle sharp as they dry. The loveliest of all foliage, in my opinion, is that of the white pine, but I would not buy one for a Christmas tree simply because its lovely, soft, three-inch-long needles will not support any weight so will not support heavy ornaments.

There are trees with needles that grow all around the stems and branches (Fraser fir), needles that are flat (Grand fir), needles and branches that are quite sturdy for holding decorations (balsam and fir), and even needles that are blue (Concolor fir) or that have blue undersides (Grand fir). I particularly like the shape and density of some of the balsam trees, especially the ones that have been sheared during their development. The firs also are nice and dense and have good shape. According to some vendors, the most popular trees seem to be the Fraser fir and the balsams. It is interesting to note that Christmas trees offered for sale in my area come mainly from Michigan, Oregon and Quebec.

If you purchase a natural Christmas tree, keep it outdoors in the shade until you are ready to take it indoors. Covering it with snow will keep it even fresher, but it will be a bit messier to take the tree indoors as there will be lots of dripping as the snow stuck to the branches melts. Some of the bottom of the trunk should be sawed off to allow the tree to take up moisture. A product called “Tree Fresh” can be added to the water; this product helps to keep the vascular system of the tree open so that it will continue to take up water while indoors. Make sure to add water to the container regularly and particularly for the first few days that the tree is up when it will draw the most water – a couple of litres a day for the first few days.

I think one of the best things about Christmas is coming into the house and catching the scent of the tree. I also believe that natural Christmas trees probably appeal to gardeners like me who like natural things; somehow artificial trees – like artificial plants, don’t appeal to me. Maybe you will try a “real” tree this year!

– Albert Parsons writes from Minnedosa, Manitoba

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