Contact: Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor
University of Vermont
For many Vermonters, it just wouldn't be Christmas without a tree although $30 to $40 may seem like a lot to spend on something that will be enjoyed less than a week. Or is it?
Not really, if you consider that the price of the tree reflects the grower's many risks and investments from the purchase of seedlings and fertilizers to property taxes and time spent planting, pruning, cutting, and shipping trees. The grower also faces loss due to insects, diseases, and rodents as well as unfavorable weather conditions.
Beginning the third year after planting, and for every year after that until the tree is harvested, trees must be sheared. Add to that the time it takes to produce a full-grown, saleable tree--ten to 15 years for blue spruce, seven to ten for scotch pine--and the price may not seem quite so unreasonable.
One way to save money is to cut your own tree at a "choose and cut" operation as these growers generally ask a fixed price for any tree on the plantation. Sometimes a sleigh ride or coffee and doughnuts at a warming hut are included in the price. Many places allow you to tag your tree early to cut just before the holidays.
Good buys also can be found at retail outlets though prices are usually higher (averaging $3 to $6 per foot) as someone else has provided the labor. Shop early for a wider selection of trees, and be sure to check for freshness.
How? By pinching the needles. If they bend rather than break, the tree is fresh. Or bounce the stump end of the tree on the ground. If too many needles fall off, choose another tree.
Another way to check for freshness is to feel the base of the tree. If it is sticky with resin, the tree was recently cut and should stand up well throughout the holidays.
Many varieties of evergreens are grown for Christmas trees, so you have several choices. The spruce has short, sharp, four-sided needles and is usually bushier than pine. However, it doesn't hold its needles as well as other varieties. The fir has flat, short needles and smooth bark. The pine has longer needles in clusters of two to five and will keep its needles for several weeks.
To protect your tree on the ride home, wrap it in a tarp to keep it from drying out and to prevent wind damage. Stash it in a cool place such as a garage or basement in a bucket of water until it is time to bring it into the house.
When it's time to set up the tree, cut off the bottom inch of the trunk to open up fresh wood to allow absorption of water. Use a tree stand that holds at least a quart of water (preferably more) as a freshly cut evergreen can drink that much water each day. Tree preservative will help the tree last longer.
Choose a location away from heat sources and doorways. Tall trees may need to be secured with wire to walls and ceilings for support.
Be sure to add water as needed. Heated rooms and electrical tree lights can dry out trees rapidly, creating a possible fire hazard. Besides, if you just spent $30 or more for a tree, wouldn't it be a shame to have to take it down early?
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