When it comes to live Christmas trees, I’ve bought everything from tiny trees for my former dorm room to ceiling grazers for my home. I love the ritual of searching for the perfect Christmas tree. Ditto for the natural beauty and piney fragrance the tree emits.
But how much do I really know about live Christmas trees?
Not much, it turns out. I realized that after speaking with Richard Palmer, the third-generation owner of Palmer Christmas Tree Farms in Mount Bethel, Penn. The family farm, which has business insurance with Erie Insurance, began selling Christmas trees in 1939. Today, they grow trees on 60 acres of land.
Here are Richard’s top tips for choosing, transporting and caring for a live Christmas tree.
Choosing a live Christmas tree
The first order of business is to decide which kind of tree you want. Richard grows six of the most popular varieties, which include:
1. Douglas fir: Douglas firs have soft, blue-green needles. They also have high needle retention compared to other trees, making them a good choice if you’re especially vacuum-averse.
2. Fraser fir: Richard reports that the fraser fir has become his most-sold Christmas tree in recent years. “They have a very good reputation for needle retention and being easy to handle,” he says.
3. Colorado blue spruce: This dense, cone-shaped tree derives its name from its unique bluish-gray color. “The blue spruce has sturdy branches and sharp needles,” adds Richard.
4. White pine: The White Pine has soft, flexible needles and is bluish-green in color. Just know they aren’t the best pick if you have heavy ornaments or you want a tree with an aroma.
5. Norway spruce: This northern European tree has shiny, dark green needles and dense branches. It does not retain needles very well, so buy it as close to Christmas as possible.
6. Concolor fir: If you’re looking for a tree with a beautiful scent, try a concolor fir. In addition to its pleasing citrus scent, this tree has a natural shape and good needle retention.
No matter which tree you choose, it’s important to make sure it’s healthy. “All Christmas trees will shed some needles, but it’s not a good sign if lots of needles are falling off,” says Richard. “It’s also a bad sign if the tree feels light.”
Buy your tree as close to Christmas as possible. “I don’t sell any trees until the day after Thanksgiving,” says Richard. “A tree lasts about five weeks, so you shouldn’t be buying one before Thanksgiving.”
Transporting a live Christmas tree
It’s always best to put trees inside your car. If your tree has to go on your car’s hood, put a garbage bag over the tree to shield it from the wind.
A common mistake is to face the cut end of the tree toward the back of the car. “That blows the branches back, which causes the tree to lose needles,” says Richard. Instead, make the cut end front facing before secure a garbage bag over the tree.
Caring for a live Christmas tree
First fill a water-holding tree stand with warm water. “It gets the tree’s circulation going,” says Richard. Afterward, you can use room-temperature water in your stand. “Never let the water run out,” adds Richard.
Another mistake is resting your tree over a heat vent before you put it in the stand. “Trees can get burn marks this way,” says Richard. Place your tree in an area away from heating vents, fireplaces and candles.
To prevent fires, inspect your lights to make sure there are no frayed wires, weird kinks or cracked sockets. Decorations should be nonflammable or flame-retardant.
Your tree will last about five weeks. One sure sign your tree is spent is when it starts dropping more needles than normal.
By following these tips, you will be able to safely enjoy a beautiful and healthy Christmas tree during the holiday season.