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Christmas Tree Tips



Real or Artificial?
"Real" Christmas trees are either freshly cut or "balled and burlapped" with the roots intact. Real trees have the distinctive pleasant evergreen smell and feel. Keeping that smell and feel requires some attention. A constant supply of water (more than a quart a day for most species) is necessary to prevent the tree from drying out. A dry tree is unsightly and a fire hazard. Proper care can help preserve freshness, but remember — all real trees shed needles.
Imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, hence the arrival of the artificial Christmas tree a few decades ago. The first awkward efforts have evolved into some amazingly realistic versions. Easier to set up and store, artificial trees do not shed needles and are hypoallergenic. After they're set up and decorated, the only work left is stacking presents underneath. Artificial trees are now available in a wide variety of "fashion" colors, allowing lots of design and decor flexibility. The latest incarnation is the fibre optic tree - for holiday special effects you cannot beat one of these.

Live Tree Varieties
Christmas tree "purists" will settle for nothing less than a fresh-cut tree. Most popular Christmas trees come from the pine or fir species. Choosing the right type depends on personal taste and regional availability.

Pine Trees

Pine trees have long, slender needles 1- 6" in length attached in clusters to branches. These trees vary in shades of yellow-green and blue-green. Most types have strong branches and retain their needles well. Scotch pine is one of the best Christmas pines.

Fir Trees

Fir trees have flat and waxy needles up to 1 1/2" in length attached directly to branches in long, dense rows. Colour varies from yellow-green to dark green, and some species have touches of reddish-brown on the buds. Firs have a very noticeable fragrance. Firs also have more flexible branches than pines or spruces and will shed some needles. The best varieties are Grand, Fraser, Noble, Balsam and Douglas.


Finding the Perfect Tree
If you plan to find the perfect tree, whether cut or live, remember the following to make sure your purchase is a wise one:

  • Make sure your vehicle can safely transport the tree you purchase to your home. Bring rope or bungee cords to secure the load adequately. Take care to protect your vehicle - tree branches and resin can mar the finish.
  • Shop in the daytime, or choose a seller with a well-lit display area.
  • Look for a full symmetrical, shape. You can sacrifice a bit of perfection if the tree is to be displayed in a corner. Check for the occasional bird's nest or insects. Beware of branches near the ground that will have to be removed.

Fresh Cut Trees
Fresh cut trees are by far the most popular "real" Christmas tree. Here are some tips to make sure you get the best tree for your home:

  • Test the tree:
    • Give it a slight shake. A few falling brown needles are not uncommon, but falling green needles warn that the tree is dry.
    • Feel the tree. The needles should be flexible but snap when bent sharply. Trees with stiff needles that are losing their colour should be avoided. Also avoid a tree with needles that pull off very easily.
  • When you get the tree home, cut a 1/2" thick disk from the base (Lowe's will make the cut for you). This slice is critical — when trees are cut in the field they produce a layer of sap that seals the cut. The seal prevents water from rising up the trunk.
  • Once the holiday season has passed, dispose of the Christmas tree in a safe and appropriate manner. Your city probably has guidelines for disposal.

Live Trees
As an alternative to a cut tree, you may choose to buy a living tree. These trees are dug with the root ball intact, then wrapped in burlap for shipment and planting. A balled and burlapped (B & B) tree can be replanted after the holiday season.
If a living tree appeals to you, be sure to follow all instructions offered by the grower to care for your tree properly. A living tree has a better chance of survival if it's inside for only about 7 days. Here are some basic care tips for a living Christmas tree:

  • Make sure you'll have room to plant the tree after the holidays.
  • Choose a healthy tree that will grow in your area.
  • A bagged and burlapped tree is heavy. Get someone to assist you when carrying one.
  • To avoid damaging the roots, always carry the tree by the root ball, not the trunk.
  • Acclimate the tree gradually to the indoors. The transition from outdoors to inside a home (where it's usually hot and dry) and back outdoors to a planting site is stressful to a tree. Store the tree in a unheated garage or basement for a couple of days before you bring it in to decorate. Be sure the root ball stays moist.
  • When the tree is brought indoors, place it in a cooler area of the house if possible. Lower the temperature or shut off the heat source.
  • To prevent soiling the area, keep the root ball in a tub or wrapped in plastic.
  • A balled tree won't lose moisture as quickly as a cut tree, but you'll still need to keep the root ball moist.
  • Plant the tree as soon as possible. If the ground is too hard to work, put the tree in a protected area. Keep the root ball covered with mulch until the tree can be planted.
  • Keep the tree watered throughout the winter.

Tree Stands
There is no substitute for a good tree stand — as long as it fits your tree. Find a sturdy stand with a large water reservoir so the tree won't dry out. The reservoir should hold at least one gallon of water.

The beauty and longevity of your live tree is totally dependent on water — and you. Depending on when and how far away away the tree was cut, the moisture content may have dropped significantly, even in a fresh tree.
Expect a tree newly placed in a stand to absorb a gallon of water in the first twenty-four hours, and at least a quart a day thereafter. Keep the stand filled with clean water. If the water level gets below the cut base, the tree will again seal the wound.

Tree Safety
Once the tree is purchased, transported safely and set up, keep the following precautions in mind. 

  • Use newer model lights with in-line fuses to avoid overloading.
  • Always switch off lighted decorations when leaving your home or going to bed.
  • Never use candles on a Christmas tree.
  • Tinsel or icicle decorations can contain metal particles that conduct electricity. Keep them away from lights and electrical connections.
  • Keep light bulbs from directly touching branches or needles. As the tree dries, hot bulbs can ignite a fire.
  • Make sure the tree is stable, as a careless nudge or household pet can topple a tree that is not secured properly. Secure the tree using wire or fishing line attached to the tree trunk and the tree stand.