Tips to Pick Out that Perfect Christmas Tree
FROM DAN MARZU, AGRICULTURE EXTENSION EDUCATOR, UW-MADISON DIVISION OF EXTENSION
Driving around in towns and in the country side, I have noticed all the holiday decorations are going up along streets and on homes. I have even seen semi loads of trees heading to lots across the state and posts on social media from Christmas tree farms inviting everyone to come and find their perfect tree. For many the trip to the tree lot or farm is an annual family tradition that kicks off the holiday season. For others this might be the first time looking to start this tradition. Whether you are a pro or just beginning, here are a couple tips on how to choose that perfect tree.
There are several types of trees you can use as a Christmas tree. According to the Wisconsin Christmas Tree Producers Association balsam fir, white spruce, and white pine are native to the state. Balsam firs have a dark-green appearance with ¾ to 1 ½ inch needles. They maintain their fragrance throughout the season. White spruce is excellent for hanging ornaments and are bluish-green to green in color. The white spruces ½ to ¾ inch needles are retained better than the other spruces. Though when crushed they may give off a bad aroma. The white pine made Wisconsin famous during the logging days. The 2 ½ to 5 inch bluish green needles are soft and flexible. The white pine has good needle retention however are not recommended for heavy ornaments. Other trees that might be available are Fraser fir, Colorado Blue spruce, Concolor fir, Douglas fir, and Scotch pine. More information on these trees can be found on the Wisconsin Christmas Tree Producers website at: www.christmastrees-wi.org.
If you are going to a lot to pick out the tree choose a fresh tree it is best to check on the freshness of the tree. These trees may have been cut several days to weeks earlier. Ask the retailer when and how often the trees are cut and delivered to the lot. You can also tell a fresh tree as it will have a healthy green appearance with few browning needles. Keep in mind that some brown needles on the inside of the tree is normal. These older needles are shed as the tree prepares itself for winter. Green needles should not fall off of the branches. An easy way to test this is to run your hand over the branches or lift up the tree a couple inches off of the ground and drop it on the butt end. If green needles fall off it might be best to find another tree.
If the trees on the lot come from out of state, it is important to inspect the trees for invasive pests. Last year, the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection (DATCP) found elongate hemlock scale (EHS) on Fraser and balsam wreaths, trees, baskets, and boughs that came from the eastern US. This insect native to Japan is soft-bodied, amber, legless, and wingless and can survive on cut trees and our cold winter weather. If established, EHS would threaten Wisconsin’s Christmas tree industry, native hemlock and balsam fir forests, and several other ornamental evergreens we use in landscaping. To inspect for EHS look on the underside of yellow or brown needles for small brown, oblong spots. If you identify this insect, contact DATCP’s pest hotline at (866) 440-7523 and if able to, email a close up picture to [email protected]
For those of you that make the annual trip to a farm to find your tree freshness should not be an issue, however check the tree to make sure it is healthy and has no unwanted dead areas or empty areas. Typically, the farmers will have these trees weeded out but some do escape and remain on the plantation. Be care when looking for the tree. Even though farmers try to make sure the plantation is well kept, the ground can be uneven and stumps from harvested trees might cause trip hazards. When cutting the tree it is best to have one person on the ground cutting the tree and another holding the bottom limbs up. While the cut is being made, the person holding tree should tug on the tree lightly to prevent the saw from binding.
If you are transporting the tree long distances or going on a highway, be sure to cover the tree with a wrap or tarp to prevent it from drying out. Once home, if the tree is not going to be put up right away store in a cool, shaded area such as an unheated garage in a bucket of water. Recut the bottom of the trunk only if the tree has been harvested more than 12 hours. Cut off about ¼-inch perpendicular to the trunk. Cutting at an angle or drilling holes will not improve water uptake. Also, do not trim off the bark of the tree, as the tissue just below the bark are the most efficient at taking up the water.
The tree will need about one quart of water for every inch of trunk diameter. It is best to have a stand that will hold at least a gallon of water, as the tree will absorb a large amount of water especially in the first week. It is best to water daily to help you with this there are a wide variety of funnels you can purchase that allow you to water standing up and not have to worry about moving tree skirts or presents. You can also make your own using PVC pipe and new, clean automotive funnel. Using IV type devices to deliver water is not as effective as the traditional stand. The use of anti-transpirants, water holding gels, floral or tree preservatives, molasses, sugar, bleach, soda, aspirin, honey, and others have shown to provide no benefit to keeping the tree healthy any better than plain water. If possible, keep the trees away from heating vents and direct sunlight as that will cause the tree to dry out quicker. If taking care of most trees will last three to four weeks.
Please feel free to contact Dan Marzu, Agriculture Extension Educator, for all your questions on holiday plants or other agriculture or horticulture needs at 608-265-2502 or [email protected].
From all of us at the Extension Office have a happy and safe holiday season!