Buying and caring for the perfect Christmas tree
HIGH POINT —When it comes to picking out a good Christmas tree, we have many requirements for them.
They must last through the holiday season. They must hold up dozens of ornaments without sagging. They shouldn’t be dropping dry needles for a few weeks. They must smell good.
Finding the right Christmas tree for you is easy with reliable information. Here are your questions, answered:
Q. What kind of tree should I get?
A. The most popular species of tree to get in North Carolina for the holidays is a Fraser fir. They are not only native to the state, but have strong branches, soft foliage, a traditional smell and, if cared for properly, will last through the season, said Karen Neal, an extension agent with the Guilford County Cooperative Extension Center. More than 90 percent of the trees grown in North Carolina for the holidays are Fraser firs, according to the North Carolina Christmas Tree Growers Association. The lesser-popular tree species include white pine, eastern red cedar and Norway spruce, Neal said.
Q. How popular are Christmas tree farms in North Carolina?
A. The state has 1,500 growers who produce about 50 million Fraser firs each year, according to Guilford County Cooperative Extension. North Carolina ranks second in the nation for the number of trees harvested every year. A lot of rain and early colder temperatures helped the 2014 crop to be the best in the past few years.
Q. When should I buy my tree?
A. The best time to buy a tree is in late November or early December, Neal said. The trees will have been cut fairly recently. Neal warns against buying a tree right before Christmas because in many cases, the tree won’t be fresh.
Q. How do I know if a tree is healthy and fresh?
A. A simple test nicknamed the “Needle test” is the easiest way to tell if a tree is healthy.
“Take a needle between your thumb and your forefinger and if it has lots of moisture in the needles themselves, which is what you want to keep it longer inside the house, and if it bends without breaking or cracking, it has lots of moisture,” Neal said. “If it breaks or cracks, then it does not have that moisture content in there.”
It’s important to chose a tree that is healthy and moist to avoid fires and weak branches.
Q. The tree is in my living room. Now what?
A. The first thing you should do when you buy a tree is cut about half an inch off the end and put it in water. Eric Murdock, who co-owns Pinepatch Christmas Trees and sells in High Point, said if the new stump is left out in the air, the sap will collect at the bottom of the stump to callous over. This would prevent any water from being sucked up the trunk. Some Christmas tree sellers will provide this service. In addition to providing water for the tree, North Carolina Cooperative Extension warns buyers to keep the tree away from heat sources and to avoid overloading electrical circuits.
Q. How do I take care of the tree?
A. Neal recommends monitoring the water level daily, especially in the first few days the tree is indoors. Murdock said he had a friend who bought a tree that sucked up a gallon of water within the first 24 hours it was inside. While rumors fly around about using sugar water or even Gatorade to keep a tree moist, he said water is the best resource.
Q. What do I do with the tree when it starts to die?
A. Christmas trees are a completely renewable product. The city of High Point will collect trees on the curb through Jan. 31 with its organic waste collection pickup. Call 883-3111 for more information. The Piedmont Triad Farmers Market also recycles the trees. Murdock said he has heard of people getting permission to put old Christmas trees in ponds for fisheries.
In addition, the tree can serve as a wildlife sanctuary and bird feeder in your backyard.
“I have seen people put their trees outside and set them up and go from having lights and indoor decorations to where they make it a fun family event and decorate it for the birds,” Neal said. “They hang popcorn and put peanut butter on it. Eventually those will fall off and you can go ahead at that point and put the tree out to decompose.”
Christmas trees by the numbers
- $25 million: Estimated retail of value-added products — including wreaths, roping, swags, table decorations and mailbox decorations — produced by North Carolina Christmas tree growers
- At least 20 square feet: Amount of greenspace available to wildlife for each Christmas tree grown
- 5 years: Age of some eastern-grown species when harvested. Fraser fir, which is slower growing, is typically 10 or more years to harvest.
- More than 12: Christmas tree species grown in North Carolina for Christmas trees
- More than 30,000: Approximate Christmas tree acreage in production across the state
- Information from Guilford County Cooperative Extension