Growing Green: Caring for your Fresh Cut Tree
One of my favorite holiday traditions is the selection of our fresh cut Christmas tree. We often traipse through snow filled fields in bitterly cold weather to find that perfect tree. The end result is worth the frosted nose and rosy cheeks. Cut and placed in water immediately, our trees remain healthy, fragrant and don't suffer from extensive needle loss throughout the holiday season. If you have never cut your own tree, visit the Minnesota Department of Agriculture website at www.mda.state.mn.us/mngrown or www.pickyourownchristmastree.org to find local growers. If you are purchasing a pre-cut tree, ask when it was cut, where it came from and how it was shipped. Find a vendor that carries Minnesota grown trees that were harvested and transported shortly before they reached the tree lot. Test the freshness of the tree by bending a needle or thumping the base of the tree on the ground. A bent needle should spring back, not break. When thumped, few needles should fall. If the tree fails either of these tests, it is too dry and you should keep looking.
Whether you select a long needled White pine, a short needled spruce, or a soft needled fir, there are steps you can take to prolong tree health and reduce needle drop this holiday season. Species selection can also impact lasting freshness.
Scotch Pines are full, short needled trees that have excellent needle retention and are fragrant. The needles change from green to shades of yellow in the autumn, and are often sprayed with artificial colorant to make them look greener. White Pines have blue/green, soft, flexible needles, and are reputed to cause fewer allergic reactions than other Christmas tree species. They also have great needle retention, and an excellent fragrance. The Norway pine is Minnesota's state tree. They have longer needles than the white pine, and have good needle retention. Spruce trees typically don't have great needle retention, and their fragrance has been described as "unexceptional". However, their short, stiff, sharp needles may discourage house cat antics around and within the tree. Fir trees (Balsam, Fraser and Canaan) have flat, dark green needles that are retained well, and are marvelously fragrant. They have an open branch arrangement that is great for decorating, however, the tips are flexible, and limit the use of heavy ornaments.
More important than tree species is the care that you give your tree after you leave the tree lot or farm. If you don't intend to bring your tree in immediately, store it in an unheated garage or in a spot protected from sun and wind. When you bring the tree inside, remove the bottom 1" of the trunk to allow the tree to more easily absorb water. Position the tree away from heat sources and place in a sturdy stand with a large water reservoir. You don't need a commercial preservative to prolong freshness, just plenty of water. Fresh trees can use one quart of water per inch of trunk diameter each day, so be sure to use a tree stand that holds enough water for a 24-hour period. If the stand goes dry, water uptake will stop and your tree will dry out rapidly. Check the water level 2-3 times per day for the first few days and daily after that, always keeping the water level above that base of the tree.
Wishing you a warm and bright holiday season! Until next time, happy decorating!
Robin Trott is a Horticulture Educator with University of Minnesota Extension./em>