Oh Christmas Tree, Oh Christmas Tree!

As a kid, I loved shopping for our Christmas tree. There's nothing like strolling through a cold parking lot filled with rows of sweet-smelling pines and Fraser firs. One year, our tree fell off the car as we rounded a corner into our neighborhood. It got run over by a Mercedes and had some pretty bad tire tracks across its backside but somehow that tree hung on through Christmas. I'd like to give my daughter some of those same memories but considering I tend to kill green things with branches, I decided to get the help of an expert on picking out a tree, bringing it home safely and making it last until at least Christmas Eve. Clarke Gernon Sr. of the National Christmas Tree Association was the man I tapped. Here's what he had to say:

When is the best time to buy a tree?

The time between Thanksgiving and Christmas is as long as it can ever be this year. That occurs when the first of November is on a Thursday. Buy your tree a week later than you normally would.

What's the first step in choosing a Christmas tree?

The most obvious thing is how tall of a tree you want. Most trees are trimmed to a taper of 80 percent. That means that a tree 10 feet tall is 8 feet wide. Bring a tape measure. Also get the stand out before you leave the house. Make note of how big of a trunk your stand can handle. We don't want the customer to come home with a tree that has a trunk that is too big for the stand and then start whacking on it. Once they have removed the bark and have encroached into the cambium layer, they just killed the tree. That's the physiological component that will absorb moisture out of the bowl and keep the tree fresh.

So once you're on the tree lot, what should you look for?
The best and simplest freshness test is to grasp a limb of the tree between your thumb and forefinger and gently pull along the length of the branch. If you have needles in your hand, go to another tree. If the tree smells like mildew, don't buy it. If the tree displays a color that does not appear characteristic of the tree, don't buy it. A white pine, for instance, does have a bit of a yellow tint. But a Fraser fir or a balsam should be deep green and some of the underside of the leaf will be white.

How do you make the tree last through New Year's?
The most effective apparatus that I have seen is Tree Fountain. They run about $10. It utilizes a liter soft drink bottle that you fill with water and turn upside down into the base of the fountain, like a water cooler at the office. The fountain has a length of tubing that runs to the bowl on the Christmas tree stand and continuously replenishes the bowl.

Lots of people are talking about living green. How is having a real Christmas tree being environmentally friendly?

Real trees are sustainable. This is something we can produce another one of. Artificial trees are made in large measure from components that are derived from crude oil at $100 a barrel. There are synthetically produced chemicals in the artificial trees that are used as building blocks for the fake foliage and for the fake trunk and all the little make-believe components of the trees. The branch material is oftentimes steel. Real Christmas trees enhance the atmosphere by producing oxygen, enhance the soil by holding it in place, are sustainable, and are occupants of the earth just as much as we are. Yes, we use pesticides in the production of Christmas trees but the largest amount is ground applied.

What's your best advice for picking out a Christmas tree?

More Holiday Help: Cut-your-own tree farms

By Tania Anderson |  December 4, 2007; 7:00 AM ET Holidays and Special Occasions
Previous: What the Locals are Buying for the Holidays | Next: Unique Finds in Quaint Occoquan


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I live in a small apartment and, in the past, have gone with a small 2'- 3' live tree bought from Home Depot, complete with small bowl and wood shims for a stand. Now, Home Depot still sells the small trees, but doesn't make a base for them. And, they don't have tree stands in stock either. Does any company even sell stands for trees this small?

Posted by: M Street | December 4, 2007 2:33 PM

Oh whoop de do, yet another preachy columnists trying to save the world from the dangers of artifical christmas trees.

Theres just one problem: I LIKE having artifical Christmas trees.

Artifical Christmas trees are convienent, can be reused for more than one year, and are the only option to those who are allergic to real pine trees, like my mother.

Yes, believe it or not, I grew up with artifical Christmas trees. They are a part of my childhood and a part of Christmas for me. And yet this Christmas all I hear from every article about Christmas trees out there is that I should be ashamed about owning a Christmas tree that is fake.

Well excuse me, but I'm NOT going to be ashamed! I'm not going to give up a part of MY Christmas tradition because somebody thinks it may cause another Katrina! I'm tried of people telling us how we should celebrate our holiday!

Don't get me wrong, there's nothing wrong with caring about the environment. But I think we should worry more about the things we do all year around rather than the things we only do once a year.

Artifical Christmas tree sales are growing every year. There alot of us in the country who own artifical trees, and we would like it if you all would stop persecuting us who chose to own a fake tree.

Keep your hands off MY Christmas.

Posted by: John Williams | December 4, 2007 8:34 PM

M Street - Trader Joes has trees in pots that are about 2' tall.

Posted by: Anonymous | December 5, 2007 9:48 AM

Calm down, Mr. Williams. This guy is from the National Christmas Tree Association -- it's his *job* to talk smack about fake trees. I'm sure if the reporter had talked to someone representing the plastics industry, they'd say that real xmas trees kill kittens, and only monsters who hate kittens have a real tree.

As for the rest of the world, nobody cares what kind of tree you have. Really, they don't. Get over yourself.

Posted by: Joe Blow | December 5, 2007 4:54 PM

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