By Rob Montana
The Christmas season is upon us and, for many celebrating the holiday, decisions need to be made about getting a tree for trimming.
Our county boasts a number of farms on which to find a fine-needled specimen, and there are a number of things to consider when heading out for the staple holiday decoration. To get a sense of what people should look for when heading out in search of their perfect tree, we spoke to a couple of local tree farmers to get their thoughts.
Philip White, who owns Applegate Tree Farm in Ithaca, said there is a fine crop of trees this season.
“I actually had too many big ones and wholesaled some of them,” he said. “That was a first.”
As for popular varieties, White said he wasn’t sure, but noted what his farm has to offer.
“We have Canaan fir and Douglas fir, and white spruce,” he said. “We also have some white pine and white fir, but not a lot of them.”
Moore Tree Farm in Lansing is celebrating its 30th year, and is owned by Richard and Kay Moore.
“There are excellent trees, gorgeous trees,” Kay Moore said when asked about the crop of options. “We had good moisture this year and a good supply of them from our perspective, good quality.
“The season started very strong for us,” she added. “I feel like people are going back to establishing a family tradition of a fresh tree, and that is again becoming the center of their holiday celebration.”
Fraser and concolor firs were varieties Moore noted when asked about popularity.
“People love Fraser fir and also concolor fir, (the latter of) which has a very citrus-y smell,” she said. “For those folks who are allergic to trees, they can definitely have a concolor. I spoke to a woman last week who was testimony to it: Last year was the first time she had a tree.”
Know what size you want – or, more importantly, what size will fit – White said when asked if he had any advice for people when they choose a tree.
“They are inclined to get something bigger than what they need, because when you’re in the great outdoors, they don’t seem as big as they are,” he said. “We have a stick we give them (customers) to mark off the highest point, and they can usually use one of their own people to gauge the height, too.
“Of course, they can always cut it down if the tree is too big,” White added, “so that’s not a bad thing, I guess.”
Make sure of a tree’s freshness, Moore said, whether it’s a u-cut or pre-cut one.
“If they’re going to cut the tree, it’s really what tree they most like,” she said when asked about advice for tree consumers, “and it’s freshness is guaranteed.
“If they’re going to have a pre-cut tree, have someone put a fresh cut on the bottom,” Moore added, “so that cut will be able to suck up the water it needs to keep it fresh.”
A trio of Cornell University experts – who work closely with New York Christmas tree producers – is also offering up advice for picking and preserving trees.
Elizabeth Lamb, a senior extension associate with the Cornell Cooperative Extension’s New York State Integrated Pest Management program, said with the good growing season this year, buying local trees is the way to go.
“The fresher the tree the better, which is a good reason to buy local. The branches should be springy and smell good,” she said. “A few loose needles aren’t a problem but you shouldn’t get handfuls when you brush the branches.
“It was a good growing season this year for Christmas tree growth and producers have been working all summer to raise beautiful Christmas trees for our homes,” Lamb added.
Brian Eshenaur, a plant pathologist specializing in plant diagnostics and a senior extension associate with the New York State Integrated Pest Management program, said people should look for a tree with a good solid green – or blue-green for some species – color. He also noted that needle yellowing or a slight brown speckled color could be an indication of a pest problem that could lead to early needle drop.
“Choose a variety and shape that fits your needs. Growers are producing a wider variety of trees compared with past years,” said Eshenaur. “Each variety tree offers its own shape, color, fragrance, and even branch stiffness which is important to consider for holding ornaments.
“Don’t be afraid to handle and bend the branches and shoots. Green needles should not come off in your hands. Also, the shoots should be flexible. Avoid a tree if the needles are shedding, or if the shoots crack or snap with handling,” he added. “Christmas trees should smell good. If there isn’t much fragrance when you flex the needles, it may mean that the tree was cut too long ago.”
Eshenaur also advised measuring the space where the tree will reside once it’s brought home – before heading out to make a selection, “so you end up with a tree that fits nicely into your home.”
“Once you move your tree inside the house, don’t locate it next to a radiator, furnace vent or other heat source,” he said, “and always remember to keep water in the tree stand topped off, so it never goes below the bottom of the trunk.”
Lee Dean, lead arborist for Cornell Botanic Gardens suggests purchasing a living tree and a species native to your area. He noted that varieties best suited for the northeast U.S. include blue spruce, and Fraser and Douglas fir.
“Place it (the tree) on top of waterproof material, wrap the root ball in decorative cloth, and water frequently. Indoor air is much drier and will increase transpiration rates. You will need to water often to keep the substrate moist,” Dean said. “Turn lights off at night to conserve electricity and reduce fire hazard.
“Once the tree has served its decorative, indoor purpose, place it in a cold (approximately 40 degrees Fahrenheit), non-temperature controlled space,” he added. “Cover root ball with mulch, blankets, or similar material to protect it from drastic temperature fluctuations.”
Dean said a late winter/early spring planting day can make for a nice family celebration, and makes a positive impact to the environment.
“Not only will you add another tree to the earth, you’ll enjoy its benefits for generations,” he said. “Plus, each tree planted represents that season’s holiday and all its memories, forever expressed in the majestic crown of the tree you planted.”
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A full list of local Christmas tree farms can be found on the Christmas Tree Farmers Association website at ChristmasTreesNY.org/SearchFarm.php.