Considerations when choosing a real Christmas tree

If you are in the market to purchase a real Christmas tree this year, Daniel Cassens, professor emeritus of forestry at Purdue University, said each variety of tree has advantages and disadvantages.

“Scotch pine has become the traditional tree because it is easy to grow and maintain, and it is well accepted in the market place,” Cassens said. “It has dark green needles and stiff branches that can hold heavy ornaments. It doesn’t drop needles easily.”

Cassens said eastern white pine is a close second to Scotch pine in popularity. It has soft, long needles with a blue-green or silver-green color.

“White pine probably doesn’t hold heavy ornaments very well — that’s the biggest drawback that it has,” Cassens said.

Douglas-fir trees have needles that are soft and dark green. Cassens said, “These trees seem to be more of a perfect cone shape and can be full, but not so full that the ornaments slide off. The moderately stiff branches are open enough that ornaments can be seen.”

Fraser firs are popular because of the Appalachian, down-home Christmas ambiance they bring into a home, and also because the widely-spaced branches display ornaments well. Needles are dark green with silvery undersides. The trees also are almost always a near-perfect pyramid shape, and have a great fragrance. Branches are stiff.

Both the Fraser fir and the Douglas-fir trees are usually considerably more expensive than pine trees, according to Cassens.

Canaan firs have a nice cone-shape and varieties can be very steep and narrow. Needles are dark green. This tree is being grown increasingly in Indiana as an alternative to Fraser and balsam fir. Branches are moderately stiff.

Concolor fir, or white fir, is probably the best adapted fir species for Indiana growing conditions. It is somewhat more globose (fatter, more spherical) than Fraser and Canaan fir, and can be heavy. Needles on some varieties of concolor fir have a beautiful, silver, soft needle with and upright sweeping manor. Some varieties also have an outstanding silver-blue color. Branches are stiff.

Blue spruces have become a popular Christmas tree because of their color and their potential to be planted in the landscape after the holidays. However, spruce trees tend to drop their needles. Trees should not put it up early. Needles are sharp.

Norway spruces are pyramid-shaped, and older trees have pendulate foliage, meaning that secondary branches hang straight down from the horizontal main branch. Needles have a lighter green color, and branches are stiff.

Cassens said both blue and Norway spruces should be fresh-cut and placed in water as soon as possible to reduce the incidence of needle drop.

Additional tree choices may include Noble fir, grand fir, balsam fir, red and Austrian pines, Korean fir, Turkish fir, Nordman fir or others.

A local choose-and-cut operation will certainly furnish you with a fresh real tree. Additionally, this can become a family “adventure.” Local retail outlets are also sources of cut real trees.

For more information on selecting a Christmas tree, access Purdue Extension publication FNR-422-W, authored by Cassens, at extension.purdue.edu/extmedia/FNR/FNR-422-W.pdf. Purdue Extension also has a first-time buyer’s guide available at extension.purdue.edu/extmedia/FNR/FNR-423-W.pdf. You can search for these and other Purdue Extension publications at Purdue Extension’s Education Store at mdc.itap.purdue.edu/default.asp.

Find additional information from the Indiana Christmas Tree Growers Association, online at indianachristmastree.com.

Next week, I’ll offer information on the care of real trees. In two weeks, I’ll discuss considerations for those who want to try (key word – try) to plant live trees in the home landscape after the holidays. Live trees are typically displayed inside only a few days, and the outside planting hole must be dug prior to the ground being completely frozen.

John Woodmansee is an extension educator in Whitley and Noble counties.

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