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Which Evergreens Make The Best Fresh Cut Christmas Trees?

A favorite outdoor activity for many families starting right after Thanksgiving Day and through to Christmas eve, is the hunt for the perfect real Christmas tree.

According to the National Christmas Tree Association, 25 – 30 million real Christmas trees are sold annually in the United States. There is no need to feel guilty about all those trees being cut down for Christmas trees. Christmas trees are a farm crop just like any other farm crop. They are specifically grown by tree farmers on tree farms, or plantations, for the sole purpose of becoming some family’s Christmas tree. For every tree that is cut down on the farm, one to three new seedlings are planted. The average time for those seedlings to reach the right size to become a Christmas tree is around seven years.

Before heading out to get your tree, measure the area in your house where you’ll be placing it. Measure the width of the area and the height of the room (floor to ceiling). Once you get to the tree farm or lot, the sizes of the Christmas trees can be deceiving – they may appear smaller than they really are, since they are standing in a wide open space. Having the measurements with you will help you to purchase the right size tree.

Picking a Fresh Tree

Obviously, the freshest tree will be the one you cut down at a choose-and-cut tree farm. However, if your tree is an already-cut-tree from a tree lot, there are ways to check freshness. Wrap your hand around one of the branches and pull it toward you letting it slide through you hand – if there are no more than a few green needles in your hand, then it is most likely a fresh tree (this is also a good way to test for a trees aromatic fragrance).

Also, you may want to do the needle bend test for freshness. For firs and spruces, the needle should snap when bent in half. The opposite is true for pines – their needles should not break when bent in half; if they do, then you may want to question the tree’s freshness, for it may be starting to become dried out.

Another way to test for freshness in a cut tree is to shake the tree or to gently hit the end of the trunk against the ground. If the tree is fresh, very few green needles should drop out. Most of the needles that drop out should be brown dead ones that are from the natural process of old needles being replaced with the new. These dead needles usually are nested in the inner part of the tree.

Popular Christmas Trees

There are numerous varieties of evergreen trees that are used for Christmas trees throughout the United States, and the world. There always seems to be a favorite of the moment (or decade) as they move up and down on the popularity scale. When we were kids the old fashion balsam tree was popular.

The following six types of Christmas trees are probably the most common, and familiar to most people. We listed each tree’s favorable and unfavorable characteristics to help you when selecting your tree.

Scotch Pine

• Over the past many decades this has been the most common Christmas tree in the United States. In recent years, it has been replaced by the various firs in popularity.

• Needles are normally 1” to 3” in length, maybe prickly, and have excellent retention (staying attached to the branch) even if it becomes dry.
• Trunks can tend to be slightly to moderately crooked and the branches are somewhat stiff, but won’t support heavy ornaments placed on the ends of the lower branches (place them on the upper branches or closer to the trunk on the lower branches)
• Has low aromatic fragrance
• Easier to grow, which translates into being less expensive.

White Pine

• Overall, a very soft and wispy appearance.
• Needles are 2” to 5” in length, very soft and flexible, and have good to very good retention.


• Trunks are more straight and the branches tend to be flimsy and will be pulled down by some types of ornaments so lighter ornaments would be better.
• Has more aromatic fragrance than Scotch Pine.
• Less expensive than other tree types because it is easier to grow.

Fraser Fir

• This and other Firs have gained great popularity in recent years.
• Needles are of the shorter variety at 1/2” to 1”, have a flattened appearance, are a deep green, tends to be soft to the touch, and has excellent needle retention.

• It tends to be naturally symmetrical, has strong branches, and has a full and filled out appearance.
• Firs are very aromatic
• Will last longer (about 4 – 5 weeks) as a cut tree
• Tends to be pricey because they take longer to grow.

Canaan Fir

• New variety of the balsam fir for Christmas tree selection, becoming very popular.
• Needles are 1/2” to 1 1/4” in length, soft to the touch, good to very good retention.

• Naturally symmetrical shape, full appearance with a more up swept branching (old fashion balsam fir typically has branches with a flattened look)
• Has a strong Balsam Fir fragrance
• Tends to be pricey because they take longer to grow.

Douglas Fir

• This Fir has been a favorite Christmas tree in the western part of the United States beginning in the early 1900’s
• Needles are 3/4” to 1 1/4” in length, soft to the touch, good to very good retention.

• Naturally symmetrical shape.
• Can be blue green like the blue spruce, but has much softer needles.
• Mild aromatic fragrance, not a Balsam Fir scent.
• Tends to be pricey because they take longer to grow.

Colorado Blue Spruce

• Doesn’t last long if used as a Christmas tree; bring indoors a week or two before Christmas to decorate.

• Needles are 3/4” to 1 1/4” in length, are very stiff and prickly, does not have good retention (if the tree stand goes dry, many needles will drop)
• Normally has a great shape, branches are strong for those heavier ornaments
• Color can range from green to blue green to whitish silver.

When you purchase your tree, it is a good idea to have the tree lot cut at least an inch off the bottom of the trunk. If you bring your cut tree home, but are not going to put it up right away, keep the tree outside in a protected area away from direct sun and wind. Place it in a container of water. After a tree is cut, usually within 6-8 hours, the sap from the trunk can begin to form a seal over the cut, which will cause the tree to not get the water it needs. Keeping the end of the trunk in water can help to prevent this from happening.

You may have a lot of helpers putting the tree up and decorating it, but taking it down and packing all the decorations and lights away may be a lonely job. When the tree is taken out of the house there are great ways to dispose of it. Many communities offer tree pick-up at the street curb or there may be a yard waste recycling center where you can drop it off. A lot of times cities will chip the trees and use this for mulch in the city park.


Photo credits:  Wahmhoff Farms Nursery, Dutchman Tree Farms, Oakland Tree Plantation, & betterOutdoorLivingatHome



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