Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Shopping For a Live Tree

Last year sales for live trees were down 10 percent and articfical tree sales were down 35 percent. Apparently, this year more people are buying trees. Tree farms say there are more new customers and more optimism.

The Omaha World Harald offered this advice for selecting a live tree:

Does using a live tree harm the environment?

The trees in lots are not taken from forests, they come from tree farms, some as far away as Washington and Michigan. They typically are grown on soil not productive enough for food crops. As with other crops, ag chemicals are used to deter pests and disease.

The Nebraska Department of Agriculture encourages the purchase of trees from local Christmas tree farms, a practice that would reduce your carbon footprint but may limit selection.

I’ve heard that trees in lots are spray painted. Is this right?

The evergreens at many tree farms are sprayed in late summer with a colorant-sunscreen. This prevents the needles from fading due to the combined effect of declining levels of chlorophyll, the green pigment in plant leaves and needles, and continuing exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet rays. This is the “spray painting” some refer to, which a Christmas tree trade organization says is an incorrect description. The colorant, they say, washes off before the tree is harvested.

How old are the trees in my local lot?

Trees typically are cut for a specific retailer, so they normally would be living until shortly before being shipped to the lot. At the start of the season, trees might only be a week or two fresh from the field. Ask your retailer when the trees were shipped.

How can I tell if a tree is fresh?

Bend the needles and a branch — both should be pliable. Lightly grip a branch with one hand and use the other to pull it through your grip. Relatively few green needles should come off — don’t be alarmed by dropping brown needles.

Where are local tree farms?

Obtain a list from your local county extension office.

Why are fir trees more expensive than pines?

Fir trees are slower growing, so farmers have to invest more in them to get them to market. Also, firs have difficulty growing in this region, summers are too hot, soils are too clayey, so they typically are shipped in from significant distances, adding to the cost.

What are the differences between trees?

Generally speaking:

– Pines (Scotch, white, Austrian): Tend to be densely branched; retain needles well; gain symmetrical appearance through pruning; not a lot of aroma; fast-growing, so the most affordable of trees; strength of branches and ability to hold ornaments varies. Scotch pines have strong branches, while white and Austrian pine branches can’t hold as much weight.

– Blue spruce: Relatively stiff branches will support heavy decorations. If tree dries out, needle drop can be a problem. Sharp, stiff needles can be painful.

– Firs (Fraser, Canaan, Concolor, Noble, Douglas): Fragrant, natural symmetry, strong branches, soft foliage, retains needles well.

How much water does a tree need?

A fresh tree may require a gallon a day for the first few days. You must keep it well-watered to keep it from drying out, becoming prickly and dropping needles.

Why so much water?

Evergreens have gone dormant by the time they’re cut for the holidays. Bringing them indoors, where it’s warm, brings them out of hibernation, so they will consume a great deal of water for several days while they re-hydrate. Once they’ve fully resupplied their branches with water, they’ll consume less water.

How do I keep a tree alive the longest?

Before standing it in water, cut off at least one-half inch of the trunk. Make a level cut, not a V or angled one. Trees seal off wounds, so an old cut —- made more than six to eight hours earlier —- already would have begun sealing itself. A fresh, well-watered tree should last until New Year’s, or even longer. Do not, at any point, let the tree dry out. The stand should have a deep basin, and be sure to regularly check the water level.

Sources: Nebraska Forest Service; University of Nebraska-Lincoln and Ohio State University Extension, National Christmas Tree Association, Nebraska Department of Agriculture, Sierra Club, local retailers.

1 comment:

  1. Love the ornaments with Her Colorado Man on them! Very cool.

    I've heard that if one wants to be as green as possible, buying a live, cut tree is the best. Those artificial trees are costly to the environment to produce, with a short 'lifespan'.

    Also, fresh trees can then be recycled. Lots of cities use the chipped up trees for mulch, both for folks to get for free and for community beautification.