Crops Lifestyle

The history and care of a real Christmas tree

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There is something special about going to a Christmas tree farm and selecting the perfect fit for your house. Every year approximately 25-30 million real Christmas trees are sold to consumers in the United States. At this time, about 350 million Christmas trees are growing on farms across the U.S.

The most common species used for Christmas trees are Scotch pine, balsam fir, Norway spruce, white fir, Colorado blue spruce, white pine, Fraser fir, Canaan fir, noble fir and Douglas fir. Trees are commonly cut and then displayed. Some nurseries have started to offer living Christmas trees that are in a pot or burlap and can be planted after the holidays, according to the University of Missouri Extension

Perhaps the first written record of a decorated Christmas tree is from Riga, Latvia, in 1510. German settlers introduced Christmas trees to the U.S. by the early 1800s. In the 1850s, President Franklin Pierce brought a Christmas tree to the White House for the first time. Sears, Roebuck and Co. sold artificial Christmas trees as early as 1910. W.V. McGalliard is credited with starting the first Christmas tree plantation, in 1901 in New Jersey, where he planted 25,000 Norway spruce.

How to care for your freshly cut farm-grown Christmas tree

In order for your Christmas tree to last the whole season, consider the following.

  • Displaying trees in water in a traditional reservoir-type stand is the most effective way to maintain the freshness of your tree and minimize needle loss.
  • Use a stand with a reservoir large enough to support the size of tree you select. As a general rule, your stand should hold 1 quart of water for every inch of stem diameter.
  • Even if you harvest your own tree at a farm, you will need to cut a half-inch disk of wood from the bottom of the tree’s trunk before putting the tree in your stand with water. Just like cut flowers, the tree will form a seal after being cut and will not take up water.
  • Check your stand daily and do not let the water level go below the base of the tree. Some stands will still have water but the base of the tree will be above it.
  • Keep trees away from major heat sources, such as fireplaces, heaters, heat vents and direct sunlight. Lowering the room temperature will also slow the drying process and reduce the amount of water the tree uses.
  • Use low-heat lights to decorate the tree. Make sure to inspect lights before placing on the Christmas tree.
  • Always turn off tree lights before going to bed or leaving the house.

How to care for your living Christmas tree (pot or burlap)

There are special instructions for a living Christmas tree. 

  • Consider the species before buying. Some species may not be well adapted for your area.
  • Keep in mind that living trees are very heavy! A 6-foot balled and burlapped tree will weigh as much as much as 250 pounds!
  • When the tree is stored outside of the house, it should be kept in an unheated, sheltered area such as a garage or porch. Do not expose the tree to freezing temperatures at any time.
  • Make sure to water the root ball regularly. Do not overwater.
  • Live trees should be decorated with care. Lights that are used should not put off any heat.
  • Do not move the tree directly from a warm house out into freezing temperatures. Move it to a sheltered outdoor area for a few days so the tree can adjust to the change in temperatures.
  • If the ground in unfrozen, the tree may be planted.
  • Do not remove the burlap or the strapping, unless it is plastic. These keep the root ball solid and secure. In the case of plastic, remove the plastic but take care to retain the original soil around the roots.

Recycling live Christmas trees

After Christmas, many communities will offer recycling programs where trees are taken and mulched to be used as ground cover. Contact your city hall or parks department to ask. For example, in parts of Missouri, the Missouri Department of Conservation will allow citizens to bring trees to ponds or lakes for use as fish habitat. If you have your own pond, consider putting your tree in it. Christmas trees can also be taken outside for use by wildlife as cover or placed near bird feeders as nesting locations.

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