When I was very small, my dad planted a grove of Scotch pines. As I grew, so did the trees, and by the time I started school, my farm family had an annual Christmas tree business. On Thanksgiving weekend, the big cut tree would go up in the front yard, the colored lights would be strung, and a few cut trees would be set out. The sign read, “Christmas Trees! $2.00 or cut your own for $1.00”. Families would come on weekends and evenings, saws and directions were given out, and memories were made. When I left home for college, the Christmas tree fund helped immensely with expenses.
You realize, of course, that all this happened way back in the last century. There are still family farms that sell trees or offer “U-cut” options (not for $1.00 though!). Our own children can remember the annual Sunday trek to cut a tree—singing Christmas carols, bouncing on the truck seat in anticipation—we often took the family dog on the adventure, too. My memories of those days are of cold, wet feet: my own and those of the dog as she insisted on sitting in my lap on the way home. Truthfully, the reality of the whole “whee! This is fun!” adventure of cutting our own tree turned out to be not so much fun for us.
We began purchasing a freshly cut tree from vendors in our village. That was much better; we were helping out a local organization—Rotary Club, Boy Scouts, Firemen—and those people didn’t appear to mind holding up every tree on the lot
while we walked around it to see if it might be the perfect one for our home. They’d tie it up for us, or load it in the back of our truck, and we’d rattle off down the road.
These days, we still go for the freshly cut tree. I like to put it up soon after Thanksgiving, and take it down soon after Christmas. We have lots of ornaments, now. There are still a few special ones from the tree at our wedding reception (who gets married on December 26th?!?), the heavy, leaded “cannonball” from my grandmother’s tree, the toothpick and glue creations made by tiny hands, the frosted glass balls from my own childhood, and the ornaments that I pick up in my travels. We need a tree with many, nicely spaced, strong branches; one that will last for nearly a month in the house without having shed all its needles by the time the last package is unwrapped. I want a fragrant tree, too, with soft needles.
I went to the local nursery for some advice and answers. East Wind Landscape Nursery is about a mile out of town; I’ve known the managers, Lisa and Christel, for a few years—they’ve advised me about herbs, perennials, shrubs, potted plants for my window boxes, and now they’re talking to me about Christmas greenery. I want to know a little about trees, a lot about how to take care of my tree—and I’ve decided I might need one of their beautiful wreaths for my front door.
The lot at East Wind is full of cut trees—Christel told me the first thing to look for is the straightness of the “leader”—the trunk of the tree. Concolor fir trees are popular these days, but it’s particularly important to check the trunk, since sometimes they can be crooked—they do have nice stiff branches for holding heavy ornaments and, wonder of wonders, they smell like tangerines! Christel crushed a few needles and had me smell them—mmmmm!
Douglas fir are beautifully full trees with soft, velvety needles and draping branches. Nice for twinkly lights and delicate ornaments—not so good for my heavy ones! Blue spruce has short, prickly needles—these are often recommended for homes with cats (or children). Spruce branches work nicely in outdoor arrangements—just be sure to wear gloves. Frasier firs are sturdy trees with good spacing between branches and long lasting needles. I think I’ve found the right type of tree for me! Christel told me that Frasier fir is the evergreen that East Wind uses for their wreaths—the backs of the needles are a beautiful blue-green.
Inside the long, low nursery building, I found the East Wind “elves” hard at work making those wreaths. They told me it takes about an hour of hard work to make one wreath—beginning with the wire frame and ending with berries or cones and bows.
I know what variety of tree I want, I think I’ve selected a wreath—now how to care for them so they’ll be at their best for the holidays? Lisa gave me a handout, “How To Care for Your Farm-Grown Fresh Christmas Tree”, which explains that when a Christmas tree is cut, typically over half its weight is water. Therefore, displaying a tree in water in a traditional reservoir type stand is the most effective way of maintaining freshness and minimizing needle loss. This handout also advises putting the tree up and in water as soon as possible after purchase, and describes the proper way to make a fresh cut on the base of the tree before putting it in the stand. Other advice includes making sure stands can hold adequate water: the rule of thumb is one quart of water per inch of stem diameter; keeping displayed trees away from heat sources; using lights that produce low heat; and consistently monitoring the tree for freshness. In addition, this handout promotes the safe, sustainable use and disposal of Christmas trees.
Lisa’s wreaths also come with care instructions. Ideally, wreaths should be displayed in a cool and humid environment, out of direct sunlight and away from heat sources and fireplaces. They should not be displayed behind a storm door where heat will build up, but rather an over the door hanger should position it on the outside of the glass. Although you should not soak a decorated wreath in a bath of water, a daily, light misting with clear, warm water front and back will keep your wreath hydrated. Lisa also advises misting your wreath weekly with an antitranspirant, in addition to daily misting, if you absolutely must hang it in direct sunlight.
Back out in the lot, I look over the selection of Frasier fir. I’ll need to go home for the truck, but I think I have found the perfect tree right there!
Or, maybe over there!
If you’d just hold up that one….!
You know, this IS fun!