Ah, that special time of year when many of our homes smell like a walk in a pine forest! Lots of questions on how to pick the perfect Christmas tree pop up at this time of year, so here goes:
Trees you find in the neighborhood lots may have been cut as early as October. This is to allow enough time to bundle, load, ship, unload and display the wares. Trees cut that long ago can be severely dried out by the time you get to see them, so choose carefully.
Stand the tree upright and rap it several times (and hard) on the ground. How many needles fall off (even the freshest-cut tree will drop some needles if you do this) should tell you how fresh the tree is. If it drops needles like Charlie Brown's Christmas Tree, put it back and keep looking!
To get the freshest tree possible, visit one or more of the myriad Christmas tree farms here in Northeast Ohio and either cut your own or have them cut one for you. The Cleveland Plain Dealer listed them just a couple of weeks ago, so secure a copy and happy hunting.
Fresh-cut trees will last a fairly long time indoors if cared for properly. Even the pre-cut ones can last longer if you keep them moist, but I think 2-3 weeks is the most you can realistically hope for.
Actually, if you plan to buy a pre-cut tree, you might consider getting it as early as possible. This way you can have it standing in a container of water at home, which should extend the time it takes the tree to dry out on you. It certainly won't be getting any water at the Christmas tree lot, so purchasing the tree early and keeping it watered may be a good idea.
Upon your arrival home with your tree, cut a few inches off the bottom of the trunk and immediately place it in a container of water. By cutting the bottom of the trunk off you are cutting into fresher wood, and this can help the tree draw the water up better, and longer. Dried out wood doesn't draw water up very well, if at all.
Keep the tree watered until you're ready to put it up inside the house, then be sure to check the water level regularly (once a day to be safe). Don't let it dry out - if it does, the tree will most likely not absorb any more water, and it'll dry out anyway.
As to the type of tree to pick, it's really a matter of preference. Pines generally have long needles, so if you like long needles, pick a pine. The white pine has needles that are soft to the touch, so they're less irritating. Scotch pines are also a favorite Christmas tree, even though their needles are a bit stiffer than the white pine.
Spruces have short needles, and are generally prickly to the touch. Firs are a good option if you want short needles but a softer feel. The most popular firs are the Douglas fir (which technically isn't a true fir, but really, who cares? It's Christmas!), the Frasier fir and the balsam fir.
People with allergies or sensitivities to evergreens seem to have better luck with the balsam fir, so if you've experienced reactions to other evergreens in the past, give this one a try.
In any event, pick the freshest tree you can find, keep it supplied with water, and have a Happy Holiday Season!
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