As the search for the perfect Christmas tree begins, three Cornell University experts who work closely with New York Christmas tree producers offer advice for picking, preserving and eventually re-planting the perfect tree.
Elizabeth Lamb has a Ph.D. in plant breeding and is a senior extension associate with the Cornell Cooperative Extension’s New York State Integrated Pest Management program. She says 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. 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.”
Brian Eshenaur a plant pathologist, specializing in plant diagnostics and is a senior extension associate with the New York State Integrated Pest Management program provides tips for picking the perfect tree.
“Look for a tree with a good solid green (or blue-green for some species) color. Needle yellowing or a slight brown speckled color could indicate there was a pest problem and 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. Each variety tree offers its own shape, color, fragrance, and even branch stiffness which is important to consider for holding ornaments.
“Measure your space before you go tree shopping and then while choosing so you end up with a tree that fits nicely into your home.
“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 shed or if the shoots crack or snap with handling.
“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.
“If possible, make a fresh cut on the bottom so the tree’s vascular tissue (pipe work) is not plugged and so the tree can easily take up water. Then, if you’re not bringing it into the house right away, get the tree in a bucket of water outside.
“Once you move your tree inside the house, don’t locate it next to a radiator, furnace vent or other heat source. 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.
“Purchase a living tree! Choose a species that grows naturally in your area. Here in the Northeast U.S., we favor blue spruce, and fir varieties, such as Frasier and Douglas. Place it 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.
“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 F), non-temperature controlled space. Cover root ball with mulch, blankets, or similar material to protect it from drastic temperature fluctuations.
“Schedule a late winter/early spring family planting day and plant your Christmas tree. Not only do will you add another tree to the earth, you’ll enjoy its benefits for generations. Plus, each tree planted represents that season’s holiday and all its memories, forever expressed in the majestic crown of the tree you planted.”