Selecting a cut Christmas Tree is a ritual that varies from family to family. We're very fortunate at Decker's Nursery to be able to say, with confidence, that we sell some of the freshest trees on Long Island. Our secret is that we use the same grower every year and have never had to consider making a change. Our grower is located in Quebec, Canada where Balsam and Fraser Fir trees grow in their natural climate, under conducive conditions. Our grower doesn't supply any of the big box stores because they are a "small" grower and they harvest the trees just before shipping them to us.
As our attention turns to Christmas and our fresh Noble, Fraser & Balsam Fir Christmas trees start to arrive, I thought it might be helpful to share some tips for checking the freshness of your tree in hopes of helping you find that "Perfect Tree." Don't ever hesitate to ask your retailer when and where they purchased their trees. Combining their answers with the tips below will help you find the right tree that will bring joy to your family through the entire month of December, and hopefully into January.
1. Pick The "Species"
This can vary in different parts of the country. Balsam and Fraser Firs are 2 of the most common species. Noble Fir has become very popular in recent years and it too prefers the cooler climate of Canada and northern climate zones. If you elect to cut your own tree at a Christmas tree farm, Douglas Fir and Norway Spruce are commonly grown on Long Island as well as up-state NY. Both of these varieties are good options as Christmas Trees.
If you select a Douglas Fir, keep in mind that they're susceptible to foliar diseases that cause the needles to drop prematurely (needle-cast fungus). This often occurs when the tree is brought inside and it recognizes the warmer temperatures that facilitates the needle drop. This isn't a common problem, it's cyclical based on cool, wet weather conditions earlier in the year. Of course, there are other options and I list these trees because they tend to be the most often used. Decker's Nursery only sells cut Fraser, Balsam and Noble Firs because of their reliability and durability.
2. Perform The "Needle Check"
The "needle check" is an easy way to check the freshness of a tree. Take your hand and wrap it around the branch of a Christmas tree and swipe downward. If the tree isn't fresh, or is in trouble, a majority of the needles will fall off with little force. Don't pull too hard, you'll damage the tree, but a simple brush will do the trick.
Every tree will drop some needles, this is normal. If you lose more than 50% of the needles this is a tree that is showing trouble and likely won't be your best choice. Make sure to inspect 3-5 branches on different sides of the tree before you make a determination. If the tree is dying or not fresh, this will make it obvious.
It's worth noting that the most common question we get asked is about the dead needles in the center of the tree. The best way to explain this dead tissue is that most evergreens hold their foliage (needles or leaves) for 2-3 years. As a tree matures, the older tissue in the center will die back and this is consistent with every conifer (evergreen). The interior foliage becomes less productive, because it receives less sunlight, as the tree grows so they shed those needles. Dead tissue in the center of a Christmas Tree is not an indicator of poor health or freshness. Pay more attention to the foliage at the end of the branch. This is what we use if we're evaluating an evergreen.
3. Look For "Good Form"
Certainly you want to select a tree with good form. What you want to recognize, however, is that trees do NOT grow symmetrically. There's always one side that's less full than the other. Trees are stimulated by the sun, this is called positive phototropism and is just a fancy word that means trees grow "towards the sunlight". That means the south side of the tree is always more full and thicker than the north side of the tree. Since most trees go into a corner you'll want identify the north side of the tree and just turn that less full section of the tree into the corner. When you're selecting your tree you may see a defect or gap in the north side of the tree. If it's a glaring gap, keep looking but don't spend days looking for a tree that doesn't have some irregularity. There's no such thing as a "perfect" in relation to it's shape. Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder here so only you can dictate your perfect tree.
4. Check The Trunk
Pay attention to the trunk of the tree, a little sweep is common and often related to the phototropism I mentioned above. A major bend in the trunk may be a source of aggravation once you get it in the stand. I've never seen a Christmas tree that doesn't grow as straight as a pin. If there is a sweep in the trunk, the tree corrects itself and continues to grow perfectly vertical. (Apical Dominance)You will not see a slight bend or sweep once the tree is decorated. Do not avoid a beautiful tree because of a slight bend. Avoid glaring defects like splits and large wounds on the trunk. This limits the flow of water through the tree. Remember its very important to cut the base of the tree prior to putting the tree in water. You can cut as large or small a section as you want and it's a critical part of keeping your tree fresh. Never let the water supply run out and go dry. This is the primary reason that a tree will not last long.
5. Pick It Up
The final check I recommend is related to the weight of a tree. This is how we evaluate the trees as we receive them from the grower. A heavy tree has more water in it, more water means it's been cut more recently. As the tree desiccates (loses water) it becomes less heavy. We see a difference in the weight of the trees as the season progresses. It's not drastic, however, it is noticeable. This is why I encourage customers to select their tree and get it home as soon as possible. The sooner you get the tree into a bucket of water or even the tree stand, the sooner it starts to replenish the loss of moisture.
When you're at the "tree yard", find the size you're looking for and ask to pick it up. Then lift a few of the other trees of the same size and see if you notice a difference in the weight. Heavier is best. I remember going to Home Depot years ago to see what the competition is selling. I literally lifted an 8-9' tree with a single arm. That tree was dead, just not showing it yet. A healthy tree is going to require an effort to lift it. This is the tree you want.
And with that, I believe you're armed with enough information to pick the freshest Christmas tree, no matter where you purchase it. Of course, we'd love to see you at the Decker's Nursery and would be happy to show your our selection of live Christmas Trees waiting to go home with you and your family!
As always, if you have any questions, don't hesitate to ask! Our experts are always available and would love to help with your selection.