By Mike Bondi, professor of forestry and regional administrator with Oregon State University Extension Service in Aurora, Ore.
Look around you – the holidays have arrived. “Seasons Greetings!” cards adorn drugstore shelves; musicians are releasing holiday albums; and in Pacific Northwest farmland, real Christmas trees are being shaped into holiday perfection.
While baking cookies, stringing tinsel and singing carols may be part of your family’s holiday traditions, it’s a slightly different series of events that signal holiday season for Christmas tree farmers in the Pacific Northwest.
Dedicated growers at more than 1,000 farms in Oregon and Washington cultivate these holiday centerpieces from seeds to saplings to grand Christmas trees. Contrary to a sometimes popular belief, Christmas trees are not cut from a forest or the top of an already existing tree, they’re grown for the sole purpose of decorating your home come Christmas season. The end product appears only briefly, but growing the trees – planting, fertilizing, pruning, shearing, etc. – takes years and is deeply rooted in one of America’s oldest traditions: agriculture.
Many members of the Pacific Northwest Christmas Tree Association have a strong tradition of family farming spanning back generations. After years of tending to their beloved trees, now is the time for these dedicated farmers to pass along their carefully reared Douglas Fir, Noble Fir, Grand Fir and Nordmann Fir varieties to homes so you can continue caring for them, and hopefully create some family traditions of your own.
Here are some tips for selecting a real Christmas tree and keeping it as happy as a kid on Christmas morning all season long:
- Be sure you know what size (height and width) you need before heading to the retail lot. If you’re short on space, remember real Christmas trees can be found in smaller, table-top sizes, too.
- Use the “Smell and Snap” test: Give the branch a gentle crush and smell the needles to check for a fresh Christmas tree fragrance. Then, bend a needle between your fingers; if it snaps, similar to a carrot, the tree is fresh.
- Look for other indicators of dryness or deterioration: excessive needle loss, discolored or yellow foliage and wrinkled bark, or a musty/mildew smell.
- Make a fresh cut on the bottom of the tree to open up the pores, which have been clogged by sap. Don’t worry about making the cut yourself — have the staff at your local lot cut off at least one-half inch — and put the tree in water as soon as possible.
- Water, water, water! An average tree may consume between a quart and a gallon of water per day. Don’t forget to add water every day because if the water level drops below the cut end of the trunk, a seal will form and no more water will be absorbed by the tree unless another fresh cut is made. And, plain water is best, no additives needed.
Think back to celebrating the holidays when you were a kid. Memories of hanging ornaments, unwrapping presents and nibbling sugar cookies may come flooding back to you and we’ll bet there’s a real Christmas tree in one of those snapshots. Real Christmas trees have been bringing merriment to families for generations. Let’s keep the tradition of real Christmas trees alive this holiday season.
To learn more about Christmas trees grown in the Pacific Northwest, and tree purchase and care tips, visit the Pacific Northwest Christmas Tree Association website: www.nwchristmastrees.org.
Mike Bondi is a professor of forestry and regional administrator with Oregon State University Extension Service in Aurora, Ore.