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.