You can check the tree for freshness by running your hands from the inside of the tree to the outside, lightly gripping the branch. You will have needles dropping, but there should not be a handful. You have to keep in mind that most Christmas trees, unless purchased at a cut-your-own farm, will have been cut in the beginning to middle of November. They are then kept in cold storage until delivery time to the garden center or corner lot. Also “bounce” the tree on the ground and see how many needles fall. There will be some, because even evergreens lose their older needles which are located towards the inside of the tree. Once you have determined that the tree is fresh, you can move onto tree types.
Pines are the Christmas tree grower’s best plant; they grow rapidly, are ready for sale in a short period of time, and can grow in a wide range of climates and soil types. On the other hand, they do need heavy annual shearing for them to attain that “Christmas Tree” look. With all of this shearing, the stem can be quite thick compared to the size of the tree, so check your tree stand for diameter size before purchasing. The two common pines found at tree lots are Scotch and white pine. Most Scotch pines tend to yellow for the winter, and to compensate the growers will spray a colorant on these trees to make them look greener. Scotch pines also suffer from crooked stems, so always look at the bottom of the tree as well as the top on this type. With it being sheared, this tree is good for a “lights only” display as well as most pines. There are no real spaces for ornaments. White pine is very important to the lumber industry as well as the Christmas tree industry. It is mostly grown in the mid-Atlantic states, and buyers admire it for the soft green color and woodsy fragrance.
Firs are the most popular type of tree grown for Christmas. They have an attractive, deep green color and conical shape and have needles that are flatter and softer in texture. In general, they are the longest lasting tree in terms of needle retention and have the most fragrance. To many on the east coast, a balsam fir is the only Christmas tree. It is naturally cone-shaped with needles that are rich green on top and silvery white underneath. Douglas firs are not a true fir, but do resemble the fir family. They have a blue-green color, excellent needle retention, but be wary of split trunks. I have seen hundreds of Douglas firs that have a split trunk 1 foot from the bottom, which will only complicate the cutting for the stand. Frasier fir needles are short and hug the stem and its growth habit is denser than balsam. This is my personal favorite. Noble fir is an attractive tree which only grows in the Northwest. This fir is the best with needle retention, but the problem arises that it is a slow grower, so not only will you pay more for this tree, but the trunk will be quite large.
Spruces have stiff square needles, rough bark, strong branches which make it perfect for heavy ornaments. On the other hand, it is often too prickly for children to decorate and can drop needles quite quickly. Spruces need to be watered frequently, so get a large capacity tree stand. Blue spruces are known for its landscape use as well as a Christmas tree. White spruce is a nice tree for its green color, but again a heavy needle dropper when watering is not kept up.
There are many new varieties being grown today, and it is really up to your own personal choice. After selecting your tree, only give the tree a fresh cut just before you are going to bring it inside. Make sure you have a large enough stand for the tree. Sometimes it is better to have one too big than too small, for the larger one will hold more water and cut down your watering times. I have also heard to use aspirin, tree fresh and other assorted chemicals to help preserve the tree. The simple, most effective way to keep your tree fresh is to make sure to never let it run out of water...plain and simple. Good luck and have a safe and happy holiday season!