According to a report from The Ohio State University, bringing trees indoors is “a tradition that dates to before Christianity and one that is not exclusive to any single religion. During Winter Solstice, early humans used evergreen boughs or entire trees in magical rites intended to secure protection of their homes and the return of vegetation in the spring. Romans decorated their homes with evergreens to celebrate Saturnalia, a winter festival honoring Saturnus, their god of agriculture. During the Middle Ages, Christians in Germany used an evergreen hung with red apples in the December 24 Adam and Eve's Day play depicting the events in the Garden of Eden.”


There are a lot of things to consider when selecting a cut tree, so rather than itemizing everything, I’m going to refer you to the National Christmas Tree Association’s website. While that site will provide in-depth information, there are a few basics that will help your tree last longer.


  • Whether the tree is cut or balled-and-burlapped, keep it well-watered in a sheltered spot until you’re ready to bring it indoors. 
  • To help it absorb water, cut a few inches from the base of the trunk when you put it in the tree stand.
  • As mentioned in my previous post, you may want to make up a preservative mixture rather than use straight water. Add a few pennies to the mix to act as a fungicide and acidifier. BUT before you add anything to the water, consider this: many of the ingredients in these mixtures are toxic to children and pets. If you have either, stick to just water. I’ve heard 7-Up works really well as a preservative in tree water, but I’ve never tried it myself.

When it comes to selecting the type of tree you want, your choices will depend to some extent on what is available in your part of the country. The top-selling cut trees are:


  • Fraser fir
  • Colorado blue spruce
  • Noble fir
  • Eastern white pine
  • Scotch pine
  • Norway spruce 
  • Concolor fir
  • Grand fir

Concolor, Grand, Canaan, Balsam, and Douglas are all other popular fir trees. In some regions, Virginia pine, Leyland cypress, Eastern red-cedar and Arizona cypress are also popular.


Consider the needles when making your selection – trees with soft, long needles may be a better choice in a house with young children than the stiff, rather sharp branches on short-needle trees. Some experts say pines hold their needles longer than other species; spruces have a very attractive form but lose their needles quickly. Spraying branches with an anti-transpirant, which coats the needles to help retain moisture, may help spruces and firs hold their needles longer if you spray before bringing the trees indoors. 


After Christmas, tree bags are a great idea to dispose of your tree without trailing dead needles throughout your house. Many municipalities collect trees to use as mulch, but if your community doesn’t offer that service, you can still recycle your tree. The cut branches, even if they are completely dried out, can serve as protection for tender plants in the garden. If you have a compost heap or an out-of-the-way spot in the yard, move the dead tree there so it can provide shelter for birds and wildlife. 


If you are an advocate of real Christmas trees, where do you get yours? Do you pick one from a lot or cut it yourself? Do you have tips for keeping the tree looking fresh? Bring on your family traditions—and tell us your tree horror stories, too.




Becke Davis is the senior writer for The Landscape Contractor magazine, a member of Garden Writers of America and the Ohio Nursery and Landscape Association. She has written well over 1,000 published articles and is the author of five garden-related books in addition to being the moderator of B&N's Garden and Mystery book clubs.






by Choisya on ‎12-05-2009 01:39 PM

Although decorating with evergreens of all kinds during the Winter Solstice is a pagan custom, it was reportedly Prince Albert, Queen Victoria's German husband, who brought the Christmas tree to England and it was from that time that they became popular over here.  Similarly, sending Christmas cards is a custom dating from the Victorian era when the 'penny post' was first introduced. The first commercial Christmas card was introduced by Sir Henry Cole, who  printed and posted a card to his friends showing a family drinking wine together. Here is a nice little BBC video showing you how to make Victorian Christmas cards.  (There are several Victorian 'how tos' on the BBC website, which is taken from a year long series they filmed earlier this year, featuring a family re-living life on a Victorian farm.)


I am in the middle of decorating my patio and home for Xmas Becke, so your posts are very timely!  My 3 fibre optic trees are plugged in and my patio shrubs glisten with silver tinsel and various silver baubles.   'Naff' they may be but they cheer up the grey, wet November days we are currently having over here:smileyhappy:

by Moderator becke_davis on ‎12-05-2009 07:08 PM

Choisya - I think I said I have a holographic little Christmas tree when, of course, what I should have said was fiber optic. (Or fibre optic in the UK!) I've always been a fan of "naff" -- when I lived in England I went to the open market and bought those metallic decorations you hang from the ceiling that open into 3-D balls, etc. And we ALWAYS had Christmas crackers!


I collect old cards and Christmas cards and I remember reading about the origins of Christmas cards. The early ones are gorgeous, and some are quite valuable.

by Choisya on ‎12-06-2009 05:48 PM

I put up a metallic 3-D ball this afternoon Becke, and plugged in my glowing felt snowman too - that's it for this year!  Christmas crackers are a must and my daughter always buys the family 'luxury' ones with pretty gifts and, of course, jokes and hats!

by Moderator becke_davis on ‎12-06-2009 08:39 PM

Aaah, Choisya, next thing you'll be telling me you have Christmas pudding with hard sauce, and, of course, homemade sloe gin!

by Choisya on ‎12-07-2009 07:39 AM

What is 'hard' sauce Becke?  I start eating Xmas puddings as soon as they appear in the shops but I do not add any brandy butter or rum sauce until the 25th December.  Xmas is very bad for my diabetes:smileysad:.  I don't like gin:smileyhappy:.   

by Moderator becke_davis on ‎12-07-2009 09:33 AM

I found the recipe for it online, but it sounds like a definite no-no for you!



Thoroughly cream 1 stick real butter. Gradually add 1 cup confectioners' sugar and 1 teaspoon vanilla. Adjust ingredients to spreadable consistency, not runny, if necessary.


by Choisya on ‎12-07-2009 05:38 PM

Mmm....I think brandy butter is more christmas puddingy:smileyhappy:.  A white sauce is traditional, preferably flavoured with dark Jamaican rum.  What do Americans usually have with their Xmas pud? 


Delia Smith gives a very traditional, and boozy, recipe for an Xmas pud - steamed for eight hours! I remember my grandmother cooking huge ones in her wash boiler!


We've strayed somewhat from trees Becke:smileyvery-happy:.

by on ‎12-07-2009 05:53 PM

(chuckle) Well we don't useually have Christmas puddings. We're a fruitcake country.


Only year we had a live tree was the year I was born. Douglas Fir, the plant it later kind. Tree still there even after we moved. At least it was 2 years ago when I last checked. Huge!

by Moderator becke_davis on ‎12-07-2009 06:59 PM

Oddly enough, fruitcake makes me gag but I love Christmas pudding. Also Spotted Dick and other British delights that flummox the average American. My mom insists I was destined to marry an Englishman -- I grew up obsessing over the Beatles, Mary Stewart and Agatha Christie, and I always have preferred tea (English style) to coffee. Although I'll drink a latte at a push.


Choisya, we've strayed from trees but we're still talking about Christmas. As the three of us are the only ones commenting at present (and you are well familiar with my tendency to go off-topic), I think we're okay.


If you want to go back on topic, though, my husband read this (shock) and recalled that we had a real tree for my daughter's first Christmas. It was sub, sub-zero that year -- broke all records for cold -- and he clearly remembers going out to a tree lot and picking out a tree while practically freezing his -- you know. I must have stayed home with the baby, since I'd completely forgotten we had a real tree that year.

by Moderator becke_davis on ‎12-07-2009 07:00 PM

Tigger - you've made me wonder what happened to the lovely blue spruces we had in England. I wonder if they're still alive. Both of my next-door-neighbors in that house have died, so there's no one left to ask.

by on ‎12-07-2009 11:16 PM

Becke have you ever had homemade fruitcake? Those premade ones with the wagon on the label ARE ghastly.


Yeah that Fir in 2007, was over 30' tall. Only tree left in the neighborhood, street been striped of green from the uban blight spread. Up the road a bit they built a projects (American version of the council estate, C) 5 years after we moved. From talking to the then owner, the tree improves her property value by a couple grand. So she wasn't inclined to remove it.


by Choisya on ‎12-08-2009 03:38 AM

When my family were at home I always made my own Christmas cake, puddings and mince pies but now I buy small good quality ones instead - I brought back a cake flavoured with Scotch whisky from my recent visit to Edinburgh. I loved the smell of Xmas cake baking, which permeated the house for days afterwards.  They also last for months if stored in an airtight tin with a sound apple to keep them moist.  I used to be a dab hand at making fruit cakes and made and iced wedding cakes for friends and family in my youf:smileyhappy:. Here is a very traditional recipe.


The Norwegian Spruce (picea abies) is the tree mostly used at Christmas here and every year the Norwegian government send a very large one for display in Trafalgar Square in commemoration of the help we gave to the Norwegian people during the war. 


I have a Korean fir tree (abies koreana) which I have had in a container for around 12 years. They are a good, pyramid shape, very slow growing and bear pretty violet cones in the summer.  An excellent choice for a patio/deck.

by Moderator becke_davis on ‎12-08-2009 11:15 AM

Tigger - no, I've never tried a real, homemade fruitcake. I'm sure that makes a difference, but, as you know by now, Martha Stewart I am not. On the other hand, my son's girl friend IS a young Martha Stewart. I'll suggest this to her.


Choisya - I used to walk past the Trafalgar Square Christmas tree every work day. I came in to Charing Cross station and walked to my office in Regent Street for many years. After that, I worked in Grays Inn Road, which took me a different route through Covent Garden.


Korean firs are absolutely gorgeous -- one of my favorite conifers. I have a Tanyosho pine (Pinus densiflora 'Umbraculifera'), a Thunderhead pine (Pinus thunbergii) and a Serbian spruce (Picea omorika) -- my lovely hemlocks died in a hot, dry summer a few years ago. I also have some native Eastern Redcedar (Juniperus virginiana) and a yew hedge. I share my neighbor's massive white pine (the source of most of my pine cones!).

by on ‎12-09-2009 02:01 AM

Tell her now; real fruitcake takes a couple weeks, days minimum. Worth it though, one of the most non refrigerated durable cakes. One of those wonderful before we had ... recipes.



by Choisya on ‎12-09-2009 05:20 AM

These dense fruit cakes improve with keeping and are traditionally made around October, ditto Christmas puddings.  This allows the fruit to mature in the alcohol and a slight fermentation takes place which gives them a 'kick'.  My eldest daughter kept one of the tiers of the wedding cake I made for her, marzipan, icing and all, until her daughter was born 12 years later and it was great! 


Yorkshire Parkin, which I gave a recipe for in the Gardening bookclub, is also a good keeper.


by Moderator becke_davis on ‎12-09-2009 10:23 AM

For those of you who come across these comments, stop by B&N's Garden Book Club. We get off topic so often we have a special thread for it, and we get onto food so much we've invited Allison Fishman, the fabulous moderator of B&N's Food and Drink board, to stop in chat. And, of course, Allison leads much more in-depth discussions on food on her board.


Choisya and Tigger -- you've reminded me of a wonderful Agatha Christie short story called "The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding." In it, Poirot observes a traditional British Christmas, in which a Christmas pudding plays an important part. It's in a collection called DOUBLE SIN AND OTHER STORIES. In some versions it's called "The Theft of the Royal Ruby."

About Garden Variety: The BN Gardening Blog
Welcome to Garden Variety, a common ground for gardening enthusiasts in the B&N community. Each day, our resident experts, guest bloggers, and B&N staff produce articles on evergreen topics and growing trends in the realm of landscaping. From seasonal plants and edible gardens to book suggestions and landscape innovations, this is the place where ideas flourish.


Since 1997, you’ve been coming to to discuss everything from Stephen King to writing to Harry Potter. You’ve made our site more than a place to discover your next book: you’ve made it a community. But like all things internet, is growing and changing. We've said goodbye to our community message boards—but that doesn’t mean we won’t still be a place for adventurous readers to connect and discover.

Now, you can explore the most exciting new titles (and remember the classics) at the Barnes & Noble Book Blog. Check out conversations with authors like Jeff VanderMeer and Gary Shteyngart at the B&N Review, and browse write-ups of the best in literary fiction. Come to our Facebook page to weigh in on what it means to be a book nerd. Browse digital deals on the NOOK blog, tweet about books with us,or self-publish your latest novella with NOOK Press. And for those of you looking for support for your NOOK, the NOOK Support Forums will still be here.

We will continue to provide you with books that make you turn pages well past midnight, discover new worlds, and reunite with old friends. And we hope that you’ll continue to tell us how you’re doing, what you’re reading, and what books mean to you.