By Christy Strawser
CBS Detroit Managing Editor
If you’re a traditionalist, nothing beats a real Michigan grown Christmas tree glowing in the living room window. Pine scent in a can? Never.
“It’s not a real Christmas without a real Christmas tree,” said Larry Davis, owner of Huron Christmas Tree Farm in Huron Township, laughing.
But real trees come with a lot of baggage, and not just the package-under-the-tree variety. Evergreens need nurturing, care and attention. So, what do you need to know to have a gorgeous evergreen that lasts all season long? Keep reading.
Know Your Tree
The National Christmas Tree Association says the most common Christmas tree species are: balsam fir, Douglas-fir, Fraser fir, noble fir, Scotch pine, Virginia pine and white pine. So, which one do you want? Davis said a pine will last the least amount of time, while blue spruce and firs will last the longest.
“They’ll hold their needles forever,” Davis said. “We raise the white pines, but we quit with the Scotch pine because they’ve got just about every disease you can have and they grow crooked.
“Most everybody is going with a fir, from Douglas to Fraser, there are all different kinds and they’re the very best.”
Need to know if your tree is fresh? There’s a simple test, according to Cathy Genovese, owner of Candy Cane Christmas Tree Farm in Oxford. “Take a branch and brush your hand firmly across it, and the needles should feel very succulent. They should be nice and green, and not too many should fall off in your hand,” Genovese said.
To make your tree last as long as possible, keep it in a bucket of water until you put it in the stand in the house. When you’re ready to put it in the stand, give it a fresh cut an inch or so from the bottom, Davis said. The fresh cut is necessary because tree sap forms a seal over the original cut, and a fresh cut will release the sap to let the tree absorb water again. And water — lots of fresh water — is all it really needs to survive, Davis said.
Commercial products with nitrogen could help the tree last longer, but they’re not necessary. And those homegrown remedies — like aspirin, corn syrup and 7-Up in the water — don’t do anything, Davis said.
“A well-cared for tree should go to the middle of January,” Davis said.
Note that objects in the field may appear larger than they are, so measure the space you’ve got and bring the measuring tape with you to the tree lot. “I’ve had people walk out of here with a 12 foot tree and an 8 foot ceiling,” Davis said. “So many people get home to discover the tree grew.”
Also scout out a location for the tree in the house that’s not directly in the path of a heat vent or in front of a window that gets direct sun all day. Direct heat is the enemy of a long-lasting tree, Davis said.
Keep it watered
Dryness is the enemy of a healthy tree, so the No. 1 thing you need to do for a long-lasting evergreen is to make sure your tree stand always has fresh water. Check it every day, Davis said, because some trees can go through a gallon of water every couple of days.
Make sure your light cords are in good condition and only use lights that are UL listed, which means they’ve met federal safety standards. Don’t overload an outlet with multiple plugs, and always turn off lights when you go to bed at night.
Keep It Clean
If you’re cutting branches and sap falls onto your furniture, Pine Sol and hot water will remove it, as will rubbing alcohol. If you’re trying to avoid needles in the carpet, go for a fir, which hangs onto its needles the longest. When needles fall on the carpet, brush them into a dustpan by hand to keep the vacuum free of clogs.
Where To Go
Wondering where to get this glorious fresh, beautiful tree? Here’s our guide to Christmas tree farms in metro Detroit.
So if it all seems like too much work and you’re thinking a fake tree is easier — and more environmentally friendly, the National Christmas Tree Association begs to differ, citing facts like these:
*Christmas trees are grown in all 50 states and Canada, while 80 percent of artificial trees worldwide are manufactured in China, according to the U.S. Commerce Department.
*Real trees are a renewable, recyclable resource.
*Artificial trees contain non-biodegradable plastics and possible metal toxins such as lead.
*There are more than 4,000 local Christmas tree recycling programs throughout the United States.
*For every real Christmas tree harvested, one to three seedlings are planted the following spring.
*There are about 350,000 acres in production for growing Christmas trees in the U.S.; much of it preserving green space.
*There are close to 15,000 farms growing Christmas trees in the U.S., and more than 100,000 people are employed full or part-time in the industry.