Lifestyle

Special care needed to keep Christmas trees fresh and green

By Dennis Tompkins

The Evergreen Arborist

Yes, it is a bit early to begin to think about Christmas. The pumpkin season just ended and Thanksgiving is lurking around the corner.

But America’s Christmas tree farmers are just beginning to get warmed up. They produce a true “real green” product that will create jobs and income that is grown in America and that enhances the environment through recycling.

Puget Sound Christmas tree farmers and local retail lots offer a wide variety of species for consumers to choose from. To help select your favorite tree, the characteristics of the more popular species are listed below.

Douglas fir: This tree is generally available as a sheared tree and is the most common species found on local tree lots.

It has a nice fragrance and a medium-to-good shelf life. Because of the thick, bushy crowns, they do not lend themselves to large or heavy decorations.

This species is the easiest to grow because it is relatively problem free. It requires seven to eight years to mature as a Christmas tree.

Noble fir: This species has long been considered the “Cadillac” of Christmas trees. It grows in a more open pattern, has stout branches, luxurious green needles, a long shelf life and has a nice fragrance. It is popular with families that have large or heavy ornaments.

It is usually the most expensive tree because it takes eight to 10 years to mature and is more difficult to grow than other species.

Grand fir: This tree is the most fragrant of the native species. It is generally heavily sheared like a Douglas fir. It has an attractive needle that makes it a popular choice as a flocked tree.

Grand fir trees require eight to nine years to grow and have a medium shelf life.

Fraser fir: This species is one of my favorites because of its somewhat open crown. It has fairly strong branches that will hold heavier ornaments. The needles have a pleasant fragrance. It also has a long shelf life that is comparable to or better than a noble fir.

Fraser fir trees are difficult to grow because of the many insect pests that constantly threaten them. They require eight to 10 years before they are ready for harvest.

Norway and blue spruce trees: These sharp needled trees are generally available only at choose-and-cut farms. They are sheared and will hold heavy decorations. Some consumers think it is “child and pet proof” because of the stiff, prickly needles.

It requires eight to nine years to mature as a Christmas tree and has a medium shelf life.

Proper Tree Care

To enjoy a terrific family experience, visit a local choose and cut farm. Locations can be obtained from the Puget Sound Christmas Tree Grower’s website, www.pscta.com. In addition, many nurseries, stores and charity groups offer trees at retail lots.

Once home, cut one-quarter inch off the butt and place the tree in a water stand. The stand should hold at least one gallon of water after the tree is placed in it. The water level should be checked daily. A typical 6-foot tree can drink one gallon of water each day.

Check the tree for freshness every few days. This can be done by sharply bending a few needles between your fingers.

Needles that are still fresh will snap or break crisply like a fresh carrot. If they bend but do not break, the tree may no longer be taking up water. Well cared for trees will drink water for to two to three weeks.

Do Trees Really Cost So Much?

A tree farmer has to invest many dollars before earning any return. Not all trees that are planted will become salable Christmas trees. Some will die. Others will be damaged or ruined by insects, diseases or other natural occurrences that can happen over an eight- to 10-year period.

For example, out of 1,000 trees planted, 900 to 950 Douglas fir may be salable. However, only 750 to 800 nobles may be marketable because of losses to the above factors. Therefore, a grower needs to receive more money for nobles than Douglas firs to make them profitable to grow.

One interesting way to view prices is to look at how much a tree costs and how long it can be enjoyed by a family compared to other regular activities.

For example, if you pay $30 for a Douglas fir or $50 for a noble, they will bring joy and good smells to your home for two to four weeks. If you spend $30 to feed a family of four at a fast food establishment or $50 to take everyone to a movie, the enjoyment may last from one to four hours.

When viewed in that perspective, trees no longer seem to be so expensive for the time that they bring enjoyment to millions of families.

Dennis Tompkins is a certified arborist from the Bonney Lake-Sumner area. He is also a nationally recognized expert and consultant to the Christmas tree industry. Contact him at 253-863-7469 or e-mail at dlt@blarg.net. Web site: evergreenarborist.com.

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