Cade Jorgenson, 13, works to cut down a tree at Krueger’s Christmas Trees. (Pioneer Press: Ben Garvin)
Few holiday traditions are as tried and true as the Christmas tree.
Brought to the U.S. by German immigrants in the 19th century, the tradition results in the sale of about 25 million to 30 million Christmas trees each year. In the Twin Cities, trees already are up in some homes, and many tree farms and lots are open for business.
“It’s so gratifying to see families come and have so much joy,” said Jan Donelson, Minnesota Christmas Tree Association executive director.
“I can’t imagine a Christmas without that,” said Donelson, who has a tree farm in Clear Lake, Minn.
The Pioneer Press checked in with a number of Christmas tree experts to see what to look for when buying a tree, what types are expected to be in demand this year and what consumers can do to make sure a tree keeps its needles.
PICKING YOUR TREE
A few decades ago, anyone buying a Christmas tree likely took home a Scotch pine.
That’s no longer the case.
“Twenty-five years ago, the Scotch pine was very popular, and now you can hardly give them away,” said Pat Leverty, whose Leverty’s Traditional Trees in Houlton, Wis., is in its 25th year.
Firs — balsam, Fraser and now Canaan — have been the big sellers the past several years.
Frasers are known for their beauty, balsams for their aroma and the Canaan has qualities of both.
“It smells like a balsam, it’s pretty like a Fraser,” said Deb Krueger of Krueger’s Christmas Trees in Lake Elmo.
There also are more exotic varieties of Christmas trees that may not be as easily found at farms and lots — the Meyer’s spruce, Korean fir and Siberian fir, for instance.
“That has a chartreuse needle and it smells like a tangerine,” Krueger said of the Siberian fir. “Why, we don’t know; but it’s just pungent tangerine.”
Donelson said she’s seeing people trying out different types of trees. Some folks are going the more traditional route and taking home a Scotch or Norway pine.
“I’m starting to get people wanting that tree back, which is good,” she said of the Norway pine, Minnesota’s state tree. “It’s all part of the cycle of everything.
Co-owner Deb Krueger, left, helps ready a Christmas tree for sale Sunday at Krueger’s Christmas Trees in Lake Elmo. (Pioneer Press: Ben Garvin)
“People are trying to remember Christmas in terms of what it was years ago, and it may not have been the short-needle varieties of the firs,” Donelson said. “I tend to see a lot of people coming and saying, ‘I want a tree I had growing up.’ “
Whatever type of tree you take home, chances are good it will be healthy, thanks to plentiful rains in the spring.
“It was a good spring, almost a perfect spring for the trees,” said Leverty. “They’re looking great — full of water, good color.”
Still, it’s important people check for freshness.
One way to do that is to grab the trunk and gently shake the tree.
“There’s always going to be some needle-drop from the center of the tree, but if they see a lot of needles fall all along the … outer edges, I would be concerned,” said University of Minnesota Extension educator Kathy Zuzek.
Even better, she added, is to run your hand along the length of the branch, touching the needles, which should not feel dry and brittle.
Donelson noted that cold temperatures can cause the needles to easily snap off and it won’t necessarily mean they are dry.
With less than four weeks until Christmas Day, a tree bought now should be in decent shape when Santa drops down the chimney. Zuzek, who specializes in horticulture, said four to five weeks is a reasonable amount of time to expect a tree to hold up in the home.
However, she said, certain steps should be taken to make sure it lasts that long.
The key to a tree’s longevity is a fresh cut. Although you can get someone to slice the trunk at a tree lot or go to a cut-your-own farm, it’s better to do it when you get home. That’s because the quicker you can get the tree in water, the better, Zuzek said.
When a tree is cut down, plugs form in the trunk’s vascular system where the cut was made, preventing the tree from sucking up water. At least an inch should be removed from the base of the trunk, but even more is better, Zuzek recommended, adding the tree should go in water right away to prevent plugs from reforming.
Trees should want to drink once they’re inside in the home, because that’s when the tree starts to warm, opening up pores called stomata at the base of the needles.
“When they open, there’s water vapor escaping out of those pores, and the water vapor creates suction that’s pulling water up from the base of the tree,” Zuzek said.
But don’t panic if your tree doesn’t start drinking immediately.
“The trees are heavy, real heavy,” said Donelson of this year’s harvest. “And when they’re heavy, that’s a sign that they’re full (of water).”
Donelson, who owns Jan’s Cut Your Own Christmas Trees, said a tree should be in water less than 15 minutes after it’s cut. Leverty agreed that the sooner a tree is in water, the better, but said a tree should be fine for a couple of hours after a fresh cut is made.
Once the tree is in its stand, water should be kept above the cutline. And trees can drink quite a bit — a quart of water per inch of trunk diameter in a day, Zuzek said.
“For instance, if you had a 4-inch (diameter) tree, it might pull up a gallon of water a day,” she said.
It’s also important that the tree be kept away from direct heat and sunlight.
Andy Rathbun can be reached at 651-228-2121. Follow him at twitter.com/andyrathbun.
For more information on the varieties of Christmas trees and a listing of cut-your-own farms, visit the Minnesota Christmas Tree Association’s website at mncta.com.