|Holiday Tree Basics|
|Artificial Or Fresh Cut - For A Happy Season|
|Stefan Fediuk, Staff Writer|
Purchasing and erecting a fresh cut Christmas tree can be a harrowing experience if you get caught up in the cold and just take the first one that tickles your fancy. Others have opted for the "easy to assemble" (now there's a laugh) version by keeping an artificial tree in the house. Each has its own merits and disappointments.
These gems have long since surpassed the bottlebrush styles of the 50's and 60's, yet there is a growing nostalgia for the retro tree. Today many varieties are pre-lit. Unfortunately, it appears that many of the old names in quality for these trees have disappeared over the last decade. However, there is still much quality in the trees that are being constructed, although most are now manufactured offshore in China and Taiwan.
|On the plus side...||On the downside...|
|Last at least ten years||Usually outlasts its novelty|
|Most are fire retardant and non-allergenic||Can appear fake|
|Pre-lit trees are available||Too symmetrical|
|Can be easily decorated with lots of lights||A pain to put away|
|Can be decorated with heavier ornaments||Fluffing of the branches|
One thing to look out for is the length of warranty. Many companies offer a 25 year warranty while others only provide 5 years. However as mentioned earlier, they often lose there novelty faster than the warranty. Tip count is important for those who want a fuller tree, not lots of ornaments. A fuller tree without ornaments will likely be difficult to decorate as the decorations will get lost in the branches or the character of the tree will be lost through the ornamentation. If buying a color other than green, make sure the color coordinates with your existing supply of decorations, or you'll be spending even more money to decorate this new investment.
When fluffing the tree, start at the bottom and work your way upward. This way you can ensure that you have all the branches equally fluffed on the same tier (layer). If you are using lights, wrap the lights immediately after fluffing each tier. This will save time and you can start multiple lines which progress vertically up the tree and reduce the energy draw on each plug. Most trees are designed in multiples of three or four. This is convenient if a strand burns out; you will still have part of the tree lit and you can turn the bad side to the back.
To light an artificial tree correctly, use about 100 lights per foot of tree height. For example a 6 foot high tree will likely use 600 lights. I prefer to use 50 light strands. They are easier to manipulate and if they burn out in mid season, then the damage isn't as great. Also, whether you tree is artificial of live, use UL certified or CSA approved lights always. In case of a fire related to the lights, failure to have these tags on the strands could void your insurance.
One other advantage of buying an artificial tree echoes in to the true meaning of the season. Once you find the tree boring and you are looking for another, always keep in mind a local orphanage, Cancer care, senior's residence, charity or needy family to donate it to. It allows for the gift of giving to continue.
Fresh Cut Trees
The smell that a fresh cut tree brings into the home is worth it if only for all the nostalgia it brings back. Also, shopping for that perfect tree each year is a great family outing, although it can have its draw backs, especially if the weather is too cold or there are different tree preferences in the family mix. For the most part, there are more reasons to not have a fresh-cut tree, but the esoteric nature of it can often outweigh the negatives.
|On the plus side...||On the downside...|
|Do not need to store over the summer||Only lasts the season|
|Creates a family outing||Battle the crowds each year|
|Can change your ideas each year||Have to change you ideas each year|
|The smell||The mess|
|More traditional and cultural significance||Fire hazard|
|Keeping it alive|
|Keeping it up (at times)|
|Finding the perfect tree|
Many garden centers have their trees hung indoors and you are not relegated to shopping in the bitter northern cold to find a tree, though it sometimes has been economical to buy from that guy who wants to get back into his trailer to stay warm. Buying a tree inside helps you to see what the tree will look like when it thaws and the branches are at their normal resting position. It is also a great way to compare the different trees that are available. Some have advantages over others.
Of the popular trees, firs (balsam and Fraser) have the best scent. They can also be found in different grades and cuts, to suit your needs. They are by far the ones with the longest lasting needles. One year due to a broken ankle, I kept a Fraser fir in my home from the beginning of December until mid-March. As a child, my parents always purchased a Scots Pine. Unfortunately, this tree has fallen somewhat out of favor in the recent past due to the fact that it dries out with the needles becoming quite sharp as a result. Another popular tree is the white pine with it's very soft needles and branches, which can unfortunately support only very little lights and bows.
Other trees of note which are marking their place in the Christmas tree market are blue spruce, which I would not suggest if you are heating your home with natural gas or if you plan to keep the tree up longer than three days. These beautiful trees should stay outside as they dry very quickly once cut. Other fir types like Douglas and Adirondack are rare and as a result costly but very beautiful.
On a final note, though the tree has been growing on a farm for the purpose of cutting for Christmas celebrations, it was once a living thing and will require watering during the time it is indoors. Remember, many of these trees were actually cut in September for December sales. To ensure a good tree, test the needle loss by tapping it on the ground to see the needles fall. Always expect some needle drop, but if it rains needles, put it back; it won't last in the house.
This does not mean you're looking for brown needles, as it's a character trait of all evergreens to exfoliate unnecessary needles. It is the green ones you are interested in, as they are likely falling because the tree is too dry. As many trees in the garden center have been cleaned of the natural needle loss that occurs, another test is to grab at 6 to 8 inches into a branch and run your hand loosely along it to the end. You should only get a few needles. If your hand is full then you know what to do with that tree.
Once you get it home, leave it outside with the butt of the stem in water (no matter if it freezes) to prevent it from further drying out. Bring it in on the day before you want to decorate the tree. Cut off a minimum of 2 inches from the butt end of the stem, and give it to the dog. The two inches is to expose fresh cells in the tree to take up the water. The dog will just love you for you giving him something and will likely stop annoying you while you're bringing in the token tree for him to lift his leg. Set the tree in the stand with several inches of water up the stem and check it every few hours as it will be absorbed quite quickly. The first few days check the water routinely as they tree with absorb it quickly.
Living Trees In Pots
This is something that southern states and extremely milder areas of Canada can do successfully without a great deal of effort. As most houses in colder climates are heated with natural gas, the air is very dry and a living evergreen can only survive in this environment for about two weeks before it requires constant watering, or the need to go outdoors as it starts to grow. If it begins to grow indoors it will be very weak and require planting only after the risk of frost in the spring (usually late May or June) has passed.
Some may think that they can take it outside after the holidays and then plant it in the spring. This isn't very practical for Northscapers as the temperatures in January are generally extreme and the shock from being in a heated environment to the bitter cold of sub-zero temperatures will freeze dry and kill the plant. It will look like it is alive, but believe me, after the first thaw it will turn yellow and defoliate.
Holiday greens are really no different. The same qualities apply and if you are using a non-scented or an artificial tree, you may opt to use cedar and fir boughs to bring the scent and plant life into the house for the holidays. As this is time of the traditional Holiday Tree hunt, I wish you all well and the very best to our Northscaping family on either side of the border!