ST. CLOUD, Minn. — Growing up, one of my favorite things we got to do in December was pick out our live Christmas tree. We would all pile into the farm truck in search of the perfect tree. In my mind there was no such thing as a tree that was ‘too big’ – the doorway to our house, and ceiling height usually had other ideas. As a December baby I always wanted ‘my tree’ to stay alive through my birthday after Christmas and into the New Year. Luckily for you the National Christmas Tree Association has some great tips if you are headed out in search of the perfect tree that you will want to keep in mind to keep your tree healthy through the season.
I never thought that a tree was too big, but the size of the space will impact your trees overall health and keep you from having stained walls and ceilings from the sap. Sorry mom. Before you head out, take time to measure your intended space. Be sure to choose a location that is away from heat sources such as vents and fire places which will cause your tree to dry out more quickly. Then take the tape measure with you so you can be sure that your tree will not touch walls, windows, or ceilings. Also know the size of your base. You do not want a trunk that is too big to fit in your tree stand.
Now that you know how big of a tree you can get, it is time to start the search at either a local tree farm or somewhere that has precut trees. If you start with an unhealthy tree it will be very hard to keep it alive through the holiday season. One easy way to check a tree’s health is to run a branch through your lightly enclosed hand. If the branch loses a lot of needles the tree is not healthy or it has been cut for too long. You can also check the branch to see if it is brittle. Brittle branches are a sign of an unhealthy tree.
Many locations offer a variety of tree types. A Scots pine is going to be your most economical option and they tend to have the best needle retention. Scots pines are really good if you use heavy ornaments. If you long for that really strong pine smell you should consider a Balsam Fir. These trees are usually mid-range in price and have a bit of a silvery tinge. However, their branches will not support a lot of weight. Fraser Firs also have a great scent but tend to be more expensive. Fraser Fir have the sturdiest branches of the firs, but are still not ideal for heavy ornaments. Colorado Spruce are great for heavy ornaments but will be quite expensive.
Once you have found the perfect and healthy tree and brought it home, you will want to trim the trunk right before putting it into the stand. If you cut your tree fresh you only need to trim about an inch or two. If your tree has been sitting on a lot you will want to trim more. This will ensure that your tree is able to take up water.
Finally be sure to keep your tree well-watered. Trees drink a LOT of water. Depending on the size of your tree it may need to be watered more than once per day to keep it healthy. Fresh trees will drink about 1 quart of water per inch of trunk diameter. Therefore, if your tree trunk is 4 inches in diameter it will drink approximately one gallon of water per day.
Over the years I have gotten better at choosing a tree that actually fits in our home and my mom has forgiven me for the occasional sap stains on the walls and ceilings. I hope you find the perfect tree to compliment your home and family traditions this year! Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!
— Katie Winslow, University of Minnesota Extension
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