Q: I love to use a real Christmas tree but the needles are always a mess. What type of tree sheds the least?
A: With the warm oven smell of Thanksgiving turkey fading, now nothing evokes memories better than the fragrance of fresh fir and holiday greenery. I love to fill my home with the natural winter landscape. And don’t forget, Master Gardeners harvest fragrant, fresh greenery and construct beautiful saddle arrangements to adorn the mailbox at the entrance to your home, or those benches or empty urns on your porch.
Come on, you know you don’t have time to make your own, no matter how many Pinterest pics you’ve pinned! Let us do the work while you’re making a list and checking it twice. Look for The Greenery Sale details at the end of this column.
The quick answer to your question is the fresher the tree, the better it will hold its needles, regardless of species. The only way to know you have a freshly cut tree is to do the Paul Bunyan thing and cut it yourself from a local “choose and cut farm.” But if your flannel shirt and boots ended up in the recycle bin, there is always the annual family trip to the corner tree lot, which will be filled this week with those beautiful firs we can’t grow in our coastal zone. Here are a few tips for ensuring their freshness.
Buy yours as soon as trees hit the lots, because the sooner you get the tree in water, the longer it will last. Look for a healthy, green tree and run your hand along branches to see if needles feel flexible and don’t pull free easily. Bump the base of the tree on the ground; if green needles fall off, the tree is not very fresh.
If you can, lift the tree and gauge how heavy it feels. A fresh tree is heavier than one already dry. (I’m resisting the urge here to make a water-weight joke. You’re welcome.) A light, dry tree may be easier to wrestle home and into the tree stand, but it won’t be as fresh, as pretty or last as long. Look at the trunk base. If you see splitting, the tree is severely dry and won’t absorb water.
Always make a fresh cut a couple of inches above the original cut to remove clogged wood that prevents water uptake. Avoid shaving down the trunk like a pencil to make it fit a too-small stand. Removing bark interferes with water uptake.
Get the freshly cut stump into water promptly, always use a stand with a water reservoir and keep fresh water in the stand. Our Extension Home Grounds agent says she has not seen any research that proves any added concoction is better than plain, fresh tap water.
Keep the tree away from heat sources to prolong freshness and reduce fire risk. Use lights and extension cords in good working order and turn lights off when the tree is not attended. Try a small room humidifier. Winter homes are dry, and a humidifier can be good for you and your fresh tree!
Some trees are considered better than others at retaining needles: Douglas fir, Eastern white pine, Fraser fir, Leyland cypress, Scotch pine and Virginia pine have excellent needle retention. But at the end of the day, freshness determines how long the tree lasts.
Finally, resign yourself to some needle loss, even with the freshest tree. Think of it as part of the fresh-tree experience. Buy a pretty little brush and dustpan set, embellish it with a ribbon and some silver jingle bells, and keep it under the tree for a quick sweep to keep the needles under control. Ok, I confess. I pinned that one.