Christmas trees and me go way back. My parents love to tell the story of my first Christmas, when I was eight months old and already walking. After I pulled the Christmas tree down, my parents stuck it in the playpen and let me run free. Back in those days, we always had a real tree. My husband and I bought our first fake tree the year we got married. It came in about a thousand pieces and by the time we figured out how it went together, it was practically Easter. (Like my first tree, that one came down rather precipitously when our cat dove for a sparkly ornament.)
When we lived in England, the ground wasn’t frozen hard as it usually was in Chicago. We bought balled-and-burlapped spruces for our Christmas trees there—dug the holes in December and planted the trees in January. Back in the U.S. when our kids were small, we had real trees a few times. I had fond memories of balsam firs and liked to have those, until a friend who was a fireman scared us back to artificial trees with his horror stories of trees catching fire.
I mentioned to my friend Michelle Buonfiglio, who writes for B&N’s Romance blog, Heart to Heart, that I was blogging about Christmas trees. She said at her house they would put pennies and ice cubes in the Christmas tree water. I’d never heard of this, but when I checked online, I found some recipes for homemade preservatives to mix with the tree water. These mixtures included sugar or corn syrup, and the copper in pennies reacts with the sugar solution to form an acidifer to help the tree absorb water, as well as acting as a fungicide and disinfectant. Go, Michelle—your family tradition still has merit!
Despite the fire risk, there is still a big demand for real trees. You don’t have to worry about depleting forests by purchasing a cut tree—Christmas trees are grown as an agricultural crop, and for every tree cut down another three or more are planted. After the holidays, many communities collect the trees and use them for mulch. If you live in a moderate climate and like the idea of using a balled-and-burlapped tree as I used to do, store the tree outside in a sheltered, unheated spot until just before Christmas, keeping the soil consistently moist. A b&b tree shouldn’t be indoors more than three days, and if you string it with lights, make sure they don’t generate heat. After Christmas, don’t put it straight outside. Move it from the house to a garage or sheltered porch before planting, to acclimatize it gradually.
My next post will be all about cut trees, since there are several things to consider, but in the meantime, here are some books that express why Christmas trees have become such an important part of the holiday. I'd love to hear about your Christmas tree traditions: Do you insist on a real tree or are you fond of retro aluminum trees? Do you have any funny tree mishaps? Do tell!
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.