By MELINDA MYERS
The holiday tree is the center of many family celebrations. Ornaments collected over the years decorate the boughs while brightly wrapped gifts are carefully placed underneath.
But the hunt for the perfect tree can be an important part of the tradition. Many try to find the right size and shape for the space allotted, a fragrance the whole family prefers and good needle retention for long lasting beauty. Load the family into the car or walk to the corner Christmas tree lot and let the hunt begin.
Size and shape are important. Your tree needs to fit but finding a fresh tree to last through the holidays is equally important. Here are a few tips to help you find the right tree and keep it looking its best throughout the holidays.
Buy local. You’ll support local Christmas tree growers and reduce the risk of spreading unwanted pests into your landscape when purchasing locally grown trees. Your local University Extension Service and Department of Natural Resources will provide updates on any threats.
Select the right variety. Family tradition may dictate your tree choice. Many prefer the fragrance of balsam fir and the needle retention of other firs like Fraser, white, Grand and Noble. Though not a true fir, Douglas fir needles have a wonderful aroma when crushed. White pines lack the fragrance that many prefer. Its pliable branches only support lightweight ornaments, but the soft needles have less bite than the popular Scots or Scotch pine. This evergreen has stiff branches that support heavier ornaments and its needles hold even when dry.
Check for freshness. A fresh tree will last throughout the holidays. Run your hand along the stem. The needles should be pliable, yet firmly attached to the branch. Avoid trees with lots of moss, lichens, vines, broken branches and other signs of poor care.
The right fit. Look closely at the overall shape and size of the tree. Stand the tree upright to make sure it will fit in the allotted space. Check the trunk. It should be straight and the base small enough to fit in your tree stand.
Make a fresh cut. Remove at least an inch from the base of the trunk before setting it in the stand. Straight or diagonal cuts work equally well. A diagonal or V-shaped cut may make it difficult to properly support the tree in the stand.
Proper watering is key. Fill the stand with water and check it often. Fresh trees can absorb as much as 2 quarts of water in the first 24 hours. Keeping your tree stand filled with water is the best way to keep your tree looking its best throughout the season.
Once your tree is in place you can add lights and decorations. Then be sure to take time throughout the busy holiday season to sit down, relax with your favorite winter beverage and enjoy the beauty of your Christmas tree.
(Melinda Myers has written numerous books, including Small Space Gardening. She hosts The Great Courses “How to Grow Anything” DVD series and the nationally-syndicated Melinda’s Garden Moment TV & radio program. Myers is a columnist and contributing editor for Birds & Blooms magazine and her web site is www.MelindaMyers.com.)