Choosing the family Christmas tree can be a season highlight or headache. Everyone has an opinion and generally, bigger and fuller is seen as better.
The first decision is what type of tree to go for. There are basically four choices:
Pre-Cut Trees The obvious advantage of a pre-cut tree is convenience. There are always hundreds to choose from. The retailer will make a clean cut on the trunk for you and they will usually wrap the tree in plastic mesh, making it easier to get into the house and to set up in the stand.
The down side to pre-cut trees is that they were probably cut weeks before they appear at nurseries in your area, which is often weeks before Christmas. You are also usually limited as to variety of tree, the bulk of pre-cut trees being some type of balsam. If you are set on a particular variety of evergreen, such as a Douglas Fir, you may have to pay top dollar.
Finally, the drawback to both pre-cut and cut your own trees is that they are dead and so they are slowing drying out and dropping needles all over your floor and your presents. And the drier they get, the more of a fire hazard they are.
Cutting Your Own Christmas tree means your tree will be fresh. It should retain its needles longer than a pre-cut tree and will probably even add more evergreen scent to your home. Most tree farm specialize in tree varieties that grow well in their area and can be sheared into the classic Christmas tree conical shape. This means you might not have a vast choice of tree types, but your tree should be healthy and well cared for.
The looming drawback to cut your own trees is that you have to cut your own tree. Bring a sharp saw. Once its cut, you generally have to drag it back to your car, so keep that in mind when looking for the largest, fullest tree. Thankfully, many tree farms have begun realizing that most of us are not as rugged as we are sentimental, and they make the cut your own experience a little easier by assisting with the cutting and having sleighs or wagons available to cart the tree to your car.
Live Trees The final Christmas tree choice is a live tree. If you live in an area with mild winters, there are probably potted or balled and burlaped (B and B) trees available all year. If your local garden centers ship off their nursery stock before the holidays, you may need to pre-order a live tree or even buy it during the growing season.
Live trees will, of course, be the freshest choice. If your tree is potted and small enough to move, you can re-use it for several years. But if your objective is to use the tree for the holidays and then plant it in your landscape, there are several more factors to consider, like mature height and width and when are you going to get it into the ground. If this is the direction your aiming, Keeping Your Live Christmas Tree Alive will give you some tips.
Needles - Basically there are short-needled spruces and firs and long-needled pines. Of greater concern than needle length is their needle-holding ability. Something like a hemlock is totally unsuitable because the needles start dropping as soon as the tree is cut. Spruces will lose their needles more readily than pines, when drying out.
Freshness - A fresh tree will look healthy and green, with few browning needles. The needles will feel pliable and when broken and squeezed, they will exude pitch. A simple test for freshness is rubbing your hand along a branch to see if needles fall off.
Shape - Most evergreens don’t grow into perfect conical Christmas trees. Growers shear the trees each year to maintain a nice shape and to encourage the branches to fill out. A full tree is beautiful on its own, but if you have a lot of ornaments, a tree with shorter branches might be a better fit. Ornaments get lost in lush trees, like the firs.
Also keep in mind the sturdiness of the branches. Many pines make tempting choices because of their long needles, but the branches will bend under the weight of even smaller ornaments.
Our first consideration when selecting a tree for Christmas is usually aesthetics. However, some evergreens hold up throughout the season better than others. Look a little more closely at your choice of trees before necessarily choosing the fattest or most fragrant.
Here's a breakdown of popular evergreens suitable for use as cut Christmas trees:
Balsam Fir or Canaan Fir - It is usually the most reasonably priced and abundant cut tree. Dark green with a slight silvery cast, Balsams have short, flat, needles that are long lasting. Very fragrant when first cut.
Colorado Blue Spruce - They range in color from dark green to powdery blue, with stiff 1 to 3 inch needles. The needles can be so stiff they scratch, so be careful when handling. Good needle retention, but they will drop in a warm room.
Douglas Fir - A beautiful, full dark green to blue variety. It holds its needles well and is very fragrant.
Norway Spruce - Pretty tree with pore needle retention.
Scotch Pine - This is one of the most popular Christmas trees. The branches are stiff with ridged, dark green needles that hold for four weeks and don't drop when dry. As a bonus, Scotch Pine has a nice, lasting aroma.
White Fir or Concolor Fir - This Fir is relatively new as a Christmas tree and becoming increasingly popular. The blue-green needles are 1/2 to 1-1/2 inches long with both a nice aroma and good needle retention. A very attractive tree.
White Pine - White Pines are having a difficult time right now. When healthy, they will retain their blue green needles throughout the holiday season. They make a very full Christmas tree. Because they have little to no fragrance they are a good choice for people who have allergic reaction to the spicier trees.
White Spruce - Similar to the Colorado Blue Spruce, this pretty, bluish green native of the Northern U.S. holds it's needles well, but they have an unpleasant odor when crushed."
(Image Credit: Flickr/ latteda)