Are you planning on selecting and cutting your own tree from a Christmas Tree farm this year? That’s terrific! But before you go, here are a few tips you’ll want to keep in mind.
- Have an idea what tree you’re looking for before you leave home. It’s not as simple as it sounds. Tastes differ. I know that I prefer trees that are a little on the slender side, natural-looking, with a few glimpses of the trunk peeking through here and there, but not everyone feels that way. Many people (in fact, I suspect the majority) prefer full, bushy Christmas trees. This means that you’ll want to discuss with your family what they think makes the perfect holiday tree, and if family members disagree, you’ll have to reach some kind of a compromise.
If you like the tree you had last year, you’ll probably want to go for the same kind this year. If not, you can consult a website such as the National Christmas Tree Association, www.christmastree.org, for clues to what the different types of trees look like. A state site (mine is the Michigan Christmas Tree Association, www.mcta.org) can tell you which varieties the different farms sell.
- Take measurements before you leave home. Remember that trees that look tiny in the Great Outdoors can seem huge once you get them inside. Measure the distance from floor to ceiling, then subtract about a foot to get your maximum tree height. You’ll want to take a look at the available space side-to-side while you’re at it. Most trees are trimmed at an 80% taper — in other words, a tree that’s 10 feet tall will be about 8 feet wide.
- Call ahead. If you have a preference as to tree species verify that they carry that type. Most tree farms will supply saws for you to cut the tree with (some will even cut it for you), but verify that this is true before you leave without a saw. (Let’s face it, their saws are probably sharper and in better condition than yours is, anway.)
- Dress the part. You’re going to be outdoors for some time, so dress warmly. Don’t forget boots, hats, gloves, and warm jeans. Tree sap can be a messy substance, so wear old clothes if at all possible. Generally, at least two people will be actively involved in the tree-cutting: one to do the actual sawing, and another to hold the branches out of the way. Since the cut’s going to be done at ground level, knee pads aren’t a bad idea, either.
This is likely to be a fun family activity, so don’t forget the camera! (On the other hand leave the dog at home — many farms prohibit them, and the rest probably should.)
- When you get to the farm, stop and check in. The operators can direct you to the species of tree you’ve decided on — or give you advice if you haven’t decided. They also have a much better idea than you do of how tall the trees actually are. Most importantly, always ask about pricing before you cut! Some farms will have the trees priced individually, and some sell them by the foot. Ask to make sure you know what you’re paying.
- Take a good look at the tree before you cut it. Does it look good from all sides? Is the trunk straight? Is there enough clearance beneath the lowest branches to allow for your tree stand? You can always cut the lowest branches off — in fact, that’s where we always got our door decoration — but it’s much simpler, and less traumatic to the tree, if you don’t have to.
The branches should bend, but not break. It’s perfectly natural for some brown needles to fall — they’re last year’s growth caught in the branches — but if green ones come off the tree is too dry and is not going to be salvageable. Pick another tree.
- As I mentioned before, some farms will cut the tree for you, and at some you have to cut it yourself. If you’re cutting, be sure to get as close to the ground as possible. (You’re probably going to have to lie on the ground.) Have someone else hold the branches out of the way while you saw. Once you get started, they can also kind of lift the tree to prevent the saw from getting stuck in the trunk.
- Take the tree to the processing area where the tree will be “cleaned” — pounded against the ground to get as much of the dead needles knocked out as possible. They’ll probably also net it for you and help you secure it to your car.
- When you get the tree home, put it in water immediately, even if you’re not bringing it into the house yet. It may not absorb too much water initially because it hasn’t dried out much yet. Still you need to water it right away, because in just a few hours the trunk will start to seal up, preventing the tree from absorbing the water it needs. If you’re leaving it outside, place it on the north side of the house until you’re ready to bring it in.
All that’s left is to bring it in and decorate it, and have a Very Merry Christmas!
Sources: National Christmas Tree Association, www.christmastree.org, Michigan Christmas Tree Association, www.mcta.org