By Anita Badejo
Nothing says holiday like a Fraser fir in your living room. Whether you want to cut down your own, buy a living one or go the artificial route, consult this field guide to picking out the perfect family tree.
You Want a Cut Tree…
Pros: You can feel good about buying a real tree, says Mike Bondi, a forestry and Christmas tree extension agent and forestry professor at Oregon State University in Oregon City. Grown primarily on family farms that employ local workers, the trees are a renewable crop-more are planted than harvested. Plus, they can be chipped or mulched and composted. (To find a recycling program, visit Earth911.com and type in "Christmas trees" and your zip code.) You can also donate them to a group that uses trees to shore up beach dunes; go to ChristmasTree.org/Recycle2.cfm for info. Photo: Corbis
Cons: You can only keep a cut tree inside for about 3 to 6 weeks, and you must be diligent about watering it. If it gets dry and is exposed to frayed lights, it could be a fire hazard (to prevent this, inspect lights annually). And because trees drop needles, you'll have to vacuum them up.
Cost: Uncultured trees can be had for about $5 to $10 each, while shaped plantation-grown trees generally run about $20 to $40 for 5- to 7-foot-tall trees, explains Bondi. Taller trees and those of the highest quality can cost $50 to $100 or more.
How to find one
Visit ChristmasTree.org and type in your zip code to find a retail lot or farm near you. Or have one shipped to you by GreenValleyChristmasTrees.com, which harvests your tree the same day it ships it out in a moisture-resistant package. Expect to pay about $150 for a 7-foot tree; shipping is included.
What to look for
Chances are, you'll be able to choose from these five varieties
Considered the king of Christmas trees in the eastern U.S.-with a royally high price tag to match-this sharpscented fir has branches with short needles that don't tend to drop often, says Bondi. "Fresh needles are firm yet soft to the touch," says Karen Wade, harvest manager at Green Valley Christmas Trees, which delivers cut trees to doorsteps. Photo: courtesy of Wisconsin Christmas Tree producers Assoc.
Similar to the Fraser, this tree native to the northeastern U.S. has short, flat, long-lasting, aromatic needles, but its branches aren't terribly sturdy. Photo: courtesy of Wisconsin Christmas Tree producers Assoc.
This medium-priced sweetly scented evergreen-the most common on tree lots-is grown in the East, Midwest and West, where it's been dubbed "the friendly fir" for its soft, long needles. Photo: Shutterstock
Popular in the West, this pricey fir has curved needles that stay on longer than those on any other Christmas tree variety, says Bondi. It can last up to 6 weeks or more. Photo: Shutterstock
Grown in the Midwest and East, this lower-priced plant has bunches of needles protruding from branches. It dries out quickly and will only last about 3 weeks. Photo: courtesy of Wisconsin Christmas Tree producers Assoc.
What to do at the tree farm
Measure it: Choose a tree that is 6 inches to 1 foot shorter than your ceiling, leaving room for a topper, says John Perry, who has been growing Christmas trees for 41 years at Yuletide Christmas Tree Farm in New Egypt, New Jersey. "Remember," he says, "the farm has a limitless ceiling and trees look shorter in the field than they do in a house." Also, measure the tree diameter to make sure it will fit in your space.
Cut it: Many farms will cut down the tree for you, but if you're a Paul Bunyan type who wants to DIY, have a family member lift the bottom branches while you use a hand saw (ask the farm staff if they will provide one, or find one at the hardware store) on the trunk, cutting about 6 inches from the ground.
Tie it: Ask the farm staff to shake the tree free of loose needles and wrap it in netting. If the farm doesn't have netting, tie a sturdy rope to the trunk and wrap it around the tree to the tip to make it easier to handle.
Hoist it: After spreading a blanket on your car roof to protect the paint job, lift the tree onto the roof so its base is at the front of the car to minimize wind damage. Pull the blanket around the tree.
Secure it: If your car has a roof rack, wrap twine around it and the blanketed tree. If not, use Perry's method: Open the car doors and pass twine from the driver's side front seat diagonally over the tree and through the passenger's side back door. Then, pass it to the driver's side back door, up diagonally over the tree and through the passenger's side front door (you'll be forming an X over the tree). Tie the ends.
What to do when you get it home
Cut it (again): Unless it has been less than two hours since the first cut, recut the base before putting it in the stand, removing about ½ to ¾ inch of the wood to expose fresh, open cells for water absorption, says Bondi. Tip: If the tree seems to stop drawing water during the holidays, help it drink more easily by making a few slits in the bark below the water line with a keyhole saw or a serrated knife, suggests Perry.
Water it: Secure the tree in a stand with a one-gallon reservoir and fill it to the top with water. During the first week, the tree can absorb ½ gallon or more of water each day, so refill often. And you can skip additives like sugar, beer or bleach. Despite what you may have heard, none works better than fresh water, says Bondi.
You Want a Living Tree…
Pro: Since the tree has its roots intact, wrapped in soil and burlap, it can be planted outside after Christmas. Photo: Getty Images
Cons: You can only keep a living tree indoors for 1 to 2 weeks, says Bondi. Why? When you buy it, it is slowing down its growth for winter. Inside, heated air tricks it into thinking it's spring, so it sprouts shoots. And if you live in a cold climate, the hole you'll plant it in has to be dug before the ground freezes.
Cost: $25 to $80, says Bondi.
Where to find one
Your local garden center is likely your best bet. Or consider renting one. The Living Christmas Company, for example, delivers potted trees to Californians, then picks them up and replants them. If you want pine scent without the hassle, there's Christmas in a can: The MicroGiardini Christmas Tree tin ($9.95; Brooklyn5and10.com) is filled with Norway spruce seeds that sprout 2 to 3 weeks after opening.
How to choose the best tree
Check it for freshness. "Grab a branch," says Rick Dungey, public relations manager of the National Christmas Tree Association. "If it bends, it's fresh. If it snaps, move on because it's brittle and dried out."
Smell it. Musty? Pick another.
You Want a Fake Tree…
Pros: No stringing up lights, watering or vacuuming needles. You can set up a prelit tree earlier and take it down later. And if you use it for five to 10 years, your investment pays off. Photo: Shutterstock
Cons: It has to be disassembled and stored in a cool, dry area. And it can never be recycled, so it'll end up in a landfill.
Cost: $75 and up
How to pick one
Look closely at the branches, which are made of either PVC or more expensive PE plastic, says Andrew Winter, creative director of ChristmasTreeMarket.com, a site that sells discounted trees. Good-quality PVC, he says, will have needles that blend in with the trunk or branches, often having a touch of brown coloring. The more branch tips (or "needles") the tree has, the more real it will look. Sandra Schafsnitz, the artificial-tree buyer at Bronner's Christmas Wonderland in Frankenmuth, Michigan, suggests looking for, say, a 7-foot tree with 1,200 branch tips. The same goes for lights-you'll want 100 lights per foot of the tree (fewer if they are LEDs). Finally, opt for a metal stand, which is sturdier than plastic.
Where to find one
Try Treetopia.com for affordable funky trees, like pink or blue. BalsamHill.com has a tree that lets you change light colors ($1,249 for 71⁄2-foot Aspen Estate Fir) and a flatback tree for small spaces ($429 for a 7-foot Fifth Avenue Flatback).
Original article appeared on WomansDay.com.
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