Nothing brings to mind the holiday season quite like the smell of fresh cut balsam. Bringing the outside in has been a tradition for hundreds of years, with some changes over that time. The most important things to remember, no matter what kind of tree has been elected to grace the home, are to never, ever use open flame near a real tree, and to keep it well hydrated, unless it’s one of those plastic trees.
The most popular is a cut tree, typically Balsam or Frasier Fir in this part of the county. From choose-and-cut in the field, where you’ll get the freshest trees around, to supporting local rotary clubs and local businesses and picking the perfect tree from a bunch that have already been cut. Before one starts to feel badly about chopping down a big, beautiful fir tree that just wants to live, remember that tree farm trees are just like corn; they are a crop, grown for one purpose, to be re-planted when harvested. Always cut off the bottom two inches of any purchased tree before it goes in the tree stand, and water with lukewarm water every day. Water, of course, is the key to keeping cut trees fresh and green, and safe. A fear around this time of year is heightened fire danger, and keeping a cut tree well hydrated is essential. Keep it away from heat registers, and make sure the lights stay cool. Once needles start to fall off the tree, it’s probably time to put it outside, well away from the house.
For those that don’t want to deal with fallen needles or just can’t bear the thought of cutting down a beautiful tree, bringing a live tree into the living room is an option. These are a little bit more work, and do require a bit more planning, but are well worth the effort. Small potted trees and larger live trees in burlap-covered root balls can be brought inside the house for as long as a week, but it is best to keep a close eye on the buds. If the tree warms up enough that the sap starts flowing and the buds break, it is in for a bit of a shock when it goes back outside. This generally will not kill the tree, but it will take a year or so for it to recover and produce new growth again. Remember that live trees are heavy, especially once the larger sizes are considered. The floor where the tree is going needs to be sturdy, and protected from moisture by a large tray or tarp, before the tree is placed. When returning it to the outdoors, put it in a sheltered but sunny spot, and bury the pot or rootball in snow to keep it insulated.
Artificial trees are good for those folks that have allergies, or have adequate storage space to keep a big box that doesn’t get touched for 48 weeks out of the year. Artificial trees are much more realistic than they used to be, and come pre-lit, now, so there’s no dealing with miles and miles of tangled fairy lights, but finding the one bulb that goes out and makes the entire branch dark can be more of a pain… They are also petroleum-based, which is a resource we’re quickly running out of. When push comes to shove, though it is definitely more cost-effective to have an artificial tree, it is much, much better for our environment and our economy to purchase a real tree. Most artificial trees are made in China or other places overseas, whereas every single natural tree has been grown right here in the United States.
In my home, I have a 4-foot tall tangerine tree, started from a seed, many, many years ago. I’ve put lights and some lighter ornaments on that for the last couple of years, and it works out pretty well. Definitely a non-traditional tree, but a pretty one nonetheless, and I can leave for a weekend without worrying about whether or not it’s going to be watered. It’s a little bit different, but still in the spirit of the season. A safe and happy holiday to everyone out there!