How does one select the perfect Christmas tree?

Picking out the tree can be a cumbersome task, but with the proper planning, you can become a pro in no time while making it fun.

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Numerous Scots and white pine sit in a tree lot waiting to be selected for the holidays to adorn a home.
John Zvirovski / The Jamestown Sun
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John Zvirovski, Jamestown Sun garden editor
John M. Steiner / The Jamestown Sun

December has quickly entered the picture and with it has come the bitter cold we all know so well in our part of the country. For the hardy ones, it is just another day in the Upper Midwest. As the holidays get nearer, we find ourselves out in the cold looking for that perfect indoor tree to decorate. In most cases, the tree becomes the focal point during the holidays in which to enjoy and gather with friends and family.

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Picking out the tree can be a cumbersome task, but with the proper planning, you can become a pro in no time while making it fun. Of all the trees sold in the U.S., only about 2% of those are obtained from people going out into a farm and cutting their own selections. The rest are purchased at a tree lot, a mass merchandiser or a nursery.

Christmas trees are predominantly grown at tree farms where they are the cash crop. It is quite the complex system of growing and harvesting to create a unique balance of production while being environmentally beneficial.

There are over 15,000 Christmas tree farms in the U.S. growing over 350,000 acres of trees for harvest each year. As these trees grow, they create a habitat for many different birds and animals while purifying the air that we breathe on a daily basis. It can take eight to 10 years before a tree is mature enough to harvest. Once it is cut down, one to three new seedlings are planted to replace it to begin the cycle all over again. After the first 10 years, once the harvest begins only a certain percentage of trees will be harvested each year to maintain a steady crop. To put tree farms in perspective, last year alone there were 46 million new trees planted for harvest in the years to come. This planting also happens each and every year.

Selecting a tree can be a family event or just a solo experience if you enjoy the time alone. Always go to a reputable business that sells trees to ensure you are getting the freshest and best quality tree. There is nothing more frustrating than getting a dry tree home that does not take up water and needs to be discarded before it creates an indoor hazard.


When looking at the trees in the lots, feel the needles and see if they are flexible with the brush of your hand. Lightly bend some of the branches to see if they are pliable. If they have a good bend to them, this would indicate they are quite fresh. Give the tree a good tap on the concrete lot to see how many needles fall from the interior. Too many dead needles from within may indicate a dry tree.

Everyone has a different space where to place the tree in the home. Always keep your dimensions in check while seeking out a tree. A 12-foot tree in the lot may look small until you bring it home and it doesn’t fit in its space. Also, keep in mind that you may be removing 2 to 4 inches off the base of the trunk for a fresh base to take up water once in a stand. Spin your tree around a little to make sure it has a uniform shape unless you are like me and appreciate a tree with some irregularities for a unique character. A tree with open spaces is great for creating interior "caves" of decorations.

Once your tree is home, quickly cut the base of the trunk at a slight angle and place it in the stand with warm water. Watch the water levels frequently during the first week your tree is up, as it can take in easily a quart of water a day. It is never good to let the reservoir go dry as the end of the tree will seal up and no longer take in additional moisture.

Of the trees available, the most common selections are balsam fir, Scots pine, white pine, white spruce and Fraser fir.

Balsam fir is one of the most fragrant trees and has a more open and airy form to its structure. The needles are about an inch long and are flat on the branch. If you are looking for a strong scent, this is the tree for you.

For a more irregular structure, try Scots pine. Rarely will you find one with a straight central trunk, but it has a gorgeous copper-colored bark, strong branches and needle that are about 2 to 3 inches in length.

White pine is usually quite dense with long needles 4 to 5 inches long. They are very soft to the touch and the branches remain pliable. One thing to keep in mind with this selection is that the branch structure is weak, so lightweight ornaments are a must to keep them from falling off.

A tree that is a little more rigid is white spruce. With its short dense needles and narrow form, it is an ideal type for small locations. Its strong branches can hold almost any ornament with ease.


Fraser fir has become one of the most popular in the market. It is a strong tree with 1- to 2-inch needles that are green on top and silvery beneath. The tree is quite dense and emits a wonderful pine aroma that is so desirable this time of the year. I also find that this selection seems to stay fresh longer than all the rest; something to keep in mind if you tend to keep your tree up till mid-January, as it has been known to happen to me!

The coming weeks will be a great time to select your tree so make it a family affair and enjoy all that goes along with getting that perfect tree for your holidays. And just a helpful hint: Wear an old pair of gloves s the sap from the trees is difficult to remove once absorbed. Happy selecting!

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