Holiday Tree Selection

Posted: November 28, 2011

It’s time to choose the perfect fresh Christmas tree for the holidays. Penn State experts recommend checking the tree carefully before purchasing and taking good care of it after you get it home.

The most popular species today are Fraser fir and Douglas fir, and with good reason. Both offer dark green color, needles soft to the touch, that classic “Christmas tree” fragrance, attractive shape, sturdy branches, and excellent needle retention. A tree that holds its needles well means less of a mess in the living room. There are also other varieties of Christmas trees offering different characteristics available at both “choose and cut” tree farms and ready-cut lots.

Scotch pine is a commonly grown Christmas tree variety, but is less popular today than it once was. It has stiff dark green needles about two to three inches long; stiff branches with an open appearance well-suited to hanging heavy ornaments; and excellent needle retention.

Blue Colorado spruce has a nice symmetrical shape; attractive blue foliage with needles about one inch in length; and stiff branches that support heavy decorations. Its needles are very sharp, however, meaning decorating is a real challenge, and the tree will drop its needles if kept too long in a warm room. For that reason, it is often selected as a living tree to be planted out in the landscape after the holidays.

Eastern white pine offers three- to four-inch long, soft, flexible bluish-green needles; a more open shape, although shearing can result in a very dense appearance; more slender and flexible branches that support fewer or smaller ornaments; good needle retention; and very little fragrance, so is reported to cause fewer allergic reactions than some other conifers.

Concolor or White fir has flat, blunt two-inch needles with a beautiful silvery blue-green color; an attractive natural shape; good needle retention; and a pleasant citrusy aroma. Its popularity is increasing because of its color and fragrance.

Canaan fir, which is relatively new to the market, and Balsam fir are two types of Christmas tree which are very similar in appearance to Fraser fir. All of these firs offer an attractive form with a compact shape and bottlebrush texture; dark green color, often with silvery undertones; long-lasting needles about three-quarters inch in length; and a pleasant fragrance.

At “choose and cut” farms, you know the tree you select is fresh. But if you purchase a pre-cut tree, here are a couple of good ways to check its freshness.

·         Needles should be green and flexible. Bend several needles on the tree to see if they spring back. If they don’t, the tree is not fresh.

·         Lift the tree and bump the bottom of the trunk onto the ground several times. If lots of green needles fall off, the tree is not fresh. Or, run your hand over a branch to see how well the needles hold.

Once you’ve purchased a tree, brought it home, and set it up, it’s important to maintain its freshness  Keeping clean water in the tree stand’s reservoir – plain tap water, no additives necessary – is the best way to keep your tree fresh and green during the holidays.