Certain species simply last longer and remain fresh much longer than others. Some of the best are the North Carolina Fraser fir, Balsam fir, Scotch pine and Douglas-fir. Regardless of species, consumers must make the final judgment of quality by looking at, touching, feeling, smelling and shaking the tree. Learn more about tree types here.
Some types of Christmas trees, particularly Fraser firs, may develop a split in the trunk. If your tree happens to have a split or crack in it, don’t worry! Given a fresh cut off the base of the trunk and placed in water, trees with cracks will take up water normally for the entire holiday season.
Cracked trunks are a problem of freshly-harvested trees that are exposed to rapid drying. Full sun, high temperatures, and dry winds can pull moisture from the foliage of cut trees. While drought prior to cutting may be a contributing factor to the stresses that initiate cracks, the primary factor is exposure to conditions that dry the tree out rapidly. Cracks can develop the day after rain if newly cut trees are subjected to sun and wind. Cracks have occurred in cold temperatures accompanied by dry winds, but exposure to bright sun and temperatures above 70 degrees are the conditions most likely to result in split trunks. Cracks will develop during a period of severe exposure whether it occurs in the field, in storage, during transportation, on the retail lot, or someone’s home.
Cracks are not directly related to foliage freshness, a tree’s ability to take up water, or fire safety (these are problems that occur after a tree has lost much of its water content).
Christmas trees in North Carolina are grown in a near-natural setting, so unfortunately, your real Christmas tree may have an unwanted hitchhiker. Don’t worry, these unwanted hitchhikers do not bite or cause disease. They are just a nuisance. They are most likely Cinara aphids, spider mites, or praying mantids. They are NOT likely to be ticks. Most years, these pests are rare. Perhaps one tree in 100,000 has any one of these pests on it. Chances are you can get a real tree every year for the rest of your life and never be troubled with them again.
Generally, post-harvest pests become more of a problem in years with a warm, dry fall. When you bring the tree into your home, the insects that have spent the winter in the Christmas tree think spring has come and become active again, even reproducing in the home. A similar situation occurs in cold climates when houseplants are left outside on the patio in the summer, then brought back inside in the winter. These houseplants may harbor spiders, sow bugs, earlyworms, or some other critter that has found a safe place to live. As stated above, in Christmas trees, pests such as Cinara aphids, spider mites, and praying mantid egg cases may be found. Again, these pests do not bite or cause disease. In many ways these hitchhikers are a symptom of a fresh tree recently harvested. If you have found a post-harvest pest, here is a list of Dos and Don’ts from the North Carolina State University Cooperative Extension Service:
- DO: Shake your tree before setting it up in the home. Christmas trees can have anything from pollen to dust to leaves and dead needles. Shaking the tree will remove a lot of debris. Consider washing the tree with water from a garden house and letting it dry before bringing your tree inside. If post-harvest pests are present, you’ll see them falling out.
- DON’T: Mash Cinara aphids or other pests on carpets or furnishings. They will leave a purple or red stain.
- DO: Vacuum pests up using an attachment without a beater bar.
- DON’T: Worry about the ornaments. The insects won’t stay on them until next year.
- DO: Treat with an insecticide if necessary. Consider using insecticidal soap to treat the tree for aphids which can be purchased from home improvement stores premixed. Spray aerosol home insecticides can also be used, but remember they are flammable. Set them set off near the infected tree, but unplug the lights first.
- DO: Remove the tree from your house if the infestation is large.
- DO: Return the tree for another one if treatments fail.
- DON’T: Give up on a real tree. The odds are against your ever having this problem again.
The first cutting date varies, depending on when the first frost occurs. In general, Christmas trees are not cut before the first week of November, and most are cut very close to Thanksgiving.
To be sure that you get a fresh tree, perform a simple freshness test on the tree by gently grasping a branch between your thumb and forefinger and pulling it toward you. Very few needles should come off in your hand.
It is normal for a healthy Christmas tree to have dead needles near the trunk and in the bottom branches. As the tree grows, the interior needles receive less sunlight and start to die off. Bottom branches are trampled on, smashed against the slope of the mountain, or become entangled in a neighboring tree. Give the tree a good shake before setting it up to remove these dead needles.
If the overall color of the tree is faded, the bark of the outer twigs is wrinkled and green, or the exterior needles fall off at the slightest touch, the tree is excessively dry and you should select a different one.
If a fresh cut was not made the tree will still take up water, but at a reduced rate. Hot tap water in the tree stand increases water uptake in some trees. If you're still concerned, do a freshness test every few days and continue to add water to the stand.
It is much better environmentally to use a natural agricultural crop and recycle it after the holidays. Real Christmas trees are a renewable, recyclable, natural product grown on farms throughout North America. Unfortunately many people have the misconception that Christmas trees are cut down from the forest. Real Christmas trees are grown as crops, just like corn or wheat, and raised on a farm. Once they are harvested, new seedlings are planted to replace harvested trees. These would NOT have been planted if trees hadn't been harvested the previous year. Fake Christmas Trees are a non-renewable, non-biodegradable, plastic and metal product most often made in overseas factories.
Less than 0.0004% of real Christmas trees used each year are ignited in home fires and NEVER has a Real Christmas Tree caused or started a fire. Even though the chance of a Christmas Tree fire is very slim, you can ensure that your Real Christmas Tree stays fresh and safe by following the NCTA recommended care tips.
The Christmas Tree Promotion Board is the industry’s national research and promotion program whose mission is to share the benefits of fresh Christmas trees with consumers through promotion and public relations. Learn more about the Board’s marketing efforts at ChristmasTreePromotionBoard.org.