TRAVERSE CITY — As the snow begins to fall and Thanksgiving plans are made, many residents of northern Michigan will soon carry out the tradition of selecting a Christmas tree.
Christmas trees offer us another opportunity to buy local, with Michigan ranking as one of the top producers in the nation. Michigan produces the largest selection of varieties, offering each of us the chance to pick what appeals to us. The most common Christmas tree species produced in Michigan include Scotch pine, Colorado blue spruce, Douglas-fir, Concolor fir, Fraser fir, and Canaan fir. Each of these species or seed sources has its own unique characteristics that make them well suited to grow under Michigan conditions and contributes to their suitability as a Christmas tree.
Consumers have two choices when purchasing a live Christmas tree. They can go to a retail lot where harvested trees are available or choose and cut a tree themselves at one of the many local tree farms around Michigan. When selecting a tree at a retail lot, care is needed to ensure that the tree is fresh. The most effective way for a buyer to evaluate the freshness of a cut Christmas tree is by how firmly the needles are attached to the branches. The easiest way to evaluate this is to lightly grasp the branch of the tree and gently pull the branch and needles through your hand. If the tree is fresh, very few needles will come off. Of course, if you are cutting your own tree, you will still want to look the tree over carefully for signs of overall quality. Needles should not shed easily or be discolored.
If a Christmas tree is fresh when purchased and given the proper care, it should last the entire holiday season without becoming excessively dry or dropping a large amount of needles. Michigan State University Extension recommends cut trees be placed in water right after you bring it home. You should also try to keep trees out of direct sunlight to extend quality. If the tree was cut before the date of purchase, trim a one to two-inch piece off the bottom of the trunk to help ensure continued quality. Keep in mind that cut Christmas trees will absorb a surprising amount of water, particularly during the first week. While there are many commercial products and home remedies to help keep a tree fresh, research has shown that the best additive is just plain water and plenty of it. Ideally the water level should never fall below the cut end of the stump. Consider utilizing a tree stand that can accommodate a significant amount of water as larger trees may use up to a gallon a day.
Now that you know how to pick and care for the perfect tree, it’s up to you to make it merry!
Erin Lizotte is an integrated pest management educator with the Michigan State University Extension in Cadillac.