Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
New England
November, 2000
Regional Report

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When selecting pre-cut Christmas trees remember the height will be taller when it's sitting in a tree stand.

Oh Christmas Tree!

December in New England is loaded with traditions. One of my favorites is selecting the family Christmas tree. When I was growing up, my family had artificial trees. One year I remember a white tree with blue lights. I'm still looking for that white evergreen in nature. Since I've lived in Vermont, our family takes a more "natural" approach, cutting a real tree each December.

A Christmas Tradition

Sometime in mid-December we drive a few miles down the road to the Russell Dairy Farm. Dave Russell raises dairy cows and, like most farmers, has a number of sidelines to make ends meet. One of his other occupations is raising Christmas trees. Not only does he grow trees in a cut-your-own operation, but he adds a little New England charm by offering horse-drawn hay rides to the Christmas tree field. He drops you off and comes back later when you've chosen and cut your tree. Some winters, when the snow falls early, the wagon is switched with a horse-drawn sleigh with bells, for a real winter treat. My animal-loving daughter loves the horse part as much as cutting the tree.

Choosing a Tree

The first step in choosing a tree is deciding which type of evergreen to select. I love the balsam trees (Abies balsamea) for the scent they give off throughout the house and the firm branches that can hold heavy ornaments. If you're looking for a softer-needled tree that holds its needles well indoors, try the Scotch pine (Pinus sylvestris). For a classic Christmas tree shape with strong branches, look for the white spruce (Picea glauca).

Buying a Tree

If you're buying a precut Christmas tree, give a tug on the needles or tap the tree on the ground before buying. If some needles drop out, avoid that tree, since it may have been cut weeks before and the needles may drop quickly when it's brought indoors.

If you're going to the farm to cut your own tree, remember the size of the area where you'll place the tree in your house. Every year we invariably think the ceiling is taller than it really is and buy a tree that we have to top when we bring it home. Measure the height of your ceiling and try to keep within bounds when choosing a tree in the field. Remember, you can also cut your "perfect" tree a little higher up the trunk to shorten its height.

Bringing It Home

When you bring the tree home, recut the base of the trunk a few inches above the original cut. Place the tree immediately in a tree stand filled with warm water. Some people like to put aspirin, sugar, and even soda in the water to help preserve the needles. The best way to keep the needles fresh is to keep the water stand filled, checking it daily. You may want to remove the bottom branches once the tree is in the stand to allow room for Santa to place his gifts under the tree. He'll appreciate it.

A fresh tree can last up to a month indoors without dropping many needles. The cooler the room, the longer the needles will stay on. We leave ours up into January each year, keeping that warm feeling of the holidays with us as long as possible.

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