Buying, selecting and caring for the perfect Christmas tree

Their conical shape is an adaptation that helps certain evergreens avoid snow build up (Provided photo — NYSDEC file photo)

I can still remember how exciting it was for my younger sister and me when, as kids, my dad announced, “We’re going to get the Christmas tree tomorrow.” The following morning we’d put on our hats and gloves and head out to the Christmas tree lot in front of Dad’s favorite hardware store to buy that “perfect” Christmas tree. (Once the tree was up however, my sister and I quickly became more focused on what we hoped would be under it.)

Buy Local

As I see it, the choice we have as consumers this Christmas (and throughout the year) is to either support small, family-run businesses, or help some fat-cat, one-percenter CEO buy another yacht, sports car or vacation home.

Bringing home the perfect Christmas tree (Provided photo — USDA Forest Service photo)

Picking the perfect Christmas tree is high on many families’ to-do lists right now. Maybe you’re planning to pick up your tree this weekend. If so, I want to encourage you to purchase your tree from a local tree farm, nursery, garden center or farm stand, as opposed to a big box store.

Money spent at small businesses stays in the local economy at a higher percentage than money spent at chain retailers. And if every one of us shifted just $100 of the money we spend at Christmas from big box stores or ordering from Amazon and other online businesses owned by multi-national corporations beholden only to their stockholders, with no vested interest whatsoever in our communities, to local, independently-owned small businesses, farmers, self-employed artisans and craftspeople, and nonprofit groups, when so many of them are struggling, we establish connections and demonstrate unity with neighbors who are just trying to make ends meet or send a son or daughter to college, soccer camp, piano or dance lessons, or the dentist for that matter. What’s more, we promote entrepreneurship and encourage new entrepreneurs to pursue their own new businesses. And, in doing so, we promote resilient, vibrant local business communities that can grow and thrive, while lessening the environmental impacts associated with the operations of large conglomerates.

Selection and Care

Before you head out to your local tree farm or lot in search of that perfect Christmas tree, I thought that I’d share what Cornell University specialists — experts who work closely with Christmas tree producers across the state — have to say about selecting the perfect tree and making it last into the New Year.

Brian Eshenaur, a Senior Extension Associate for Ornamental Crops with Cornell Cooperative Extension’s New York State Integrated Pest Management Program (NYSIPM), suggests choosing “a variety and shape that fits your needs. Each variety tree offers its own shape, color, fragrance and even branch stiffness,” he says, “which is important to consider for holding ornaments.”

Eshenaur recommends using your senses — sight, touch and smell — when picking your tree. “Look for a tree with a good solid-green color,” he says, noting that “needle yellowing or a slight brown speckled color could lead to early needle drop.”

He goes on to say, “Don’t be afraid to handle and bend the branches and shoots. And avoid a tree if green needles come off in your hand or the shoots crack or snap with handling.” He emphasizes that, “Christmas trees should smell good. If there isn’t much fragrance when you flex the needles, it may mean that the tree was cut too long ago.” He asserts too, that “fir trees (e.g. Balsam, fraser fir) have great needle retention and stiff branches that make a perfect place to display ornaments all the way to the tip.”

Elizabeth Lamb, a senior extension associate with NYSIPM, agrees.

“The fresher the tree the better,” she says, “which is a good reason to buy local. The branches should be springy and smell good. A few loose needles aren’t a problem, but you shouldn’t get handfuls when you brush the branches.”

She calls attention to the fact that, “most New York state Christmas tree farms are choose-and-cut operations, although some have pre-cut trees,” and notes, “You can ask the grower about how long they’ve been cut or ask at your local lot where the trees are coming from.”

Lee Dean has been lead arborist for Cornell Botanic Gardens since 2002. He explains, “If the tree was freshly cut, needle retention relates to how well you care for the tree, once it’s in your home. Monitoring the water level is very important. Keep water above the bottom of the trunk. Place the tree away from a heat source and turn off lights at night. This greatly reduces fire hazards and saves energy.

Brian Eshenaur also advises, “Don’t forget the tape measure. Measure the floor to ceiling height before you go tree shopping and then while choosing, so you end up with a tree that fits nicely into your home.

When asked about the “single-use” aspect of real Christmas trees, Eshenaur believes that, “considering the alternative of a plastic tree produced and then shipped from overseas, which will eventually end up in a landfill, the real trees have their benefits. They are a renewable resource,” he says, “and by buying locally you’re supporting growers that will continue to maintain their fields, which are part of the greenspace we all value.”

Happy Holidays

To all of my readers, whatever your faith (or lack thereof), I wish you peace, joy, love, laughter, contentment and goodwill during this holiday season and throughout the coming year.


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