For many, the holiday season officially begins with the yearly hunt for the perfect Christmas tree. With a freshly cut Christmas tree, the tradition of the quest makes memories that last a lifetime.
"There's nothing quite like a live tree," says RJ Laverne, Board Certified Master Arborist at The Davey Tree Expert Company. "It's the scent and spirit of the holiday."
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As a tree expert, he has one secret tip for finding the perfect tree this year: "Pick one that speaks to you," Laverne says. "A good quality, healthy tree will last for weeks with proper care and maintenance."
When perusing the lot, Laverne suggests testing the branches and needles of the trees for freshness. "Run your fingers along the needles, grab the branches and bounce the tree a little," he explains. "If the tree is fresh, very few needles should fall off. If many do, it's a sure sign that the tree was cut long-ago and has not been watered enough."
Each variety of Christmas tree has its own personality. Below Laverne outlines the pros and cons of some of the most popular species.
• Douglas Fir
While not a true fir, the Douglas fir is one of the most popular Christmas trees. The dark green or blue-green colored needles are soft to the touch and radiate out in all directions from the branch, creating a very full-looking tree. The Douglas fir also has a sweet, not overwhelming scent.
• Colorado Blue Spruce
Spruces have a beautiful shape and color, but the Colorado blue spruce is an incredibly symmetrical and stately tree. The blue spruce is also one of the best for needle retention.
• Scotch and Eastern White Pine
All varieties of pine have excellent needle retention and a full look. Though, their flexible branches struggle to hold heavy ornaments. The main difference between the scotch and white pine is their fragrance. Scotch trees have a long-lasting aroma while the Eastern white trees have almost no fragrance, making it a favorite for those with fragrance sensitivities.
• Firs, including Balsam, Fraser and Canaan
These trees are more expensive than pines because they grow slower, however the extra expense is worth it. Firs have stiff branches that hold heavy decorations, their needles won't shed even if it misses a watering or two, and the scent will make the whole house smell like Christmas. Balsam firs are perfect for tree toppers while Fraser firs are more compact.
• Living Christmas Trees
Living Christmas trees come with a root ball, to allow for planting after the holiday season. Choosing the right, native conifer tree now will ensure it thrives when planted. Keep in mind, these trees must be kept in a garage or shed until the ground has thawed enough for planting.
Once the perfect Christmas tree has made its way home, Laverne has one suggestion for keeping it fresh. "Water," he says, "is the essential ingredient for maintaining Christmas tree freshness."
Water prevents needles from drying and dropping off and helps maintain fragrance. Trees may drink up to several quarts a day, so check the water level daily.
Keep the Green Growing by Tree-Cycling
When the holidays are over, make sure to recycle the tree. Each year, 93% of Christmas trees are recycled and turned into mulch for landscapes, gardens or chipped for use in playgrounds and hiking trails.
Nationally, there are 4,000 available recycling programs. Most municipalities will collect trees during their regular pickup schedules in the two weeks following Christmas. Check with the local municipality or recycling center about tree-cycling. Before recycling the Christmas tree, remove all non-organic décor, like lights and ornaments.
Hopefully, these tips from the experts on how to choose and care for a Christmas tree help. Questions? Call a local certified tree care specialist at Davey Tree.