Close on the heels of the Thanksgiving celebration, comes one of the most harrowing of all the winter holiday experiences-the Selection of the Christmas Tree. Luckily, we live smack in the middle of tree central. Of the 13,000 or so Christmas tree farms in the United States, more than 900 are located in Wisconsin. So we have plenty of choices.
There has been some talk of a Christmas tree shortage, but the most problematic areas are the Pacific Northwest which has been plagued by forest fires, and the Southeast because of the summer hurricanes. Though fir trees can withstand drought, they do require clean air. So even trees in plantations that were not directly impacted by fire, are not putting on optimal growth, due to the polluted air. Tree prices will probably rise in the coming years as the Midwest begins to ship trees south, but this season’s weather was almost perfect, and the trees are beautiful.
The quest to find that perfect tree starts with the trees themselves. Where are they grown? Are they fresh? When were they Harvested? The cut trees in the Garden Center are grown at Silent Night Tree Farm in Endeavor, Meyer Castle Tree Farm in Medford and Hilliker Tree Farm in Tomah. These family-owned businesses have both been growing trees in Wisconsin for decades. Silent Night has supplied trees to two US presidents. And every tree that you find at the Bruce Company has been selected by our own tree buyers and delivered to Middleton just before Thanksgiving.
But before you get to the Garden Center and begin to negotiate between this tall and thin tree and that short and wide tree, be sure that you know how much space you have. Measure the height of your ceiling and estimate how much floor space can be taken up by the tree. Choose a spot away from heat sources, like fireplaces and radiators. Move your furniture around if needed. And don’t forget to measure the opening of your tree stand to make sure that it will be big enough for the trunk.
What type of tree is best? The popularity of Christmas trees varies geographically. Here in Dane County, the overwhelming favorite is the Fraser Fir, with its dark green needles highlighted by silvery-blue undersides, sturdy branches, and superb needle retention. The classic Balsam Fir is also popular. Balsams sport a deep green color, excellent needle retention and are the most aromatic. Running a distant third in the Eastern White Pine. This Wisconsin native has lovely soft green needles on gracefully drooping branches.
Once you’ve decided on a type of tree, there are lots of different ways to tell how fresh it is, but we like the old standards. First, run your hand gently along a branch. The needles should be pliable and very few should come off into your hand. Next, crush a few needles and take a whiff. They should be fragrant. Finally, give the tree a little shake. Though some needles may fall from the inside of the tree, the ones on the tips of the branches should stay put.
Once you get your tree home, cut at least an inch off the trunk and get it into the water as quickly as possible, certainly within an hour or two. And keep that stand filled. The water prevents the needles from drying out and dropping onto the gifts below. It also helps to maintain the fragrance. Some trees take the water slowly, while others may empty the stand in a few hours, so monitor the water level closely for the first few days, especially if you have pets that may see the tree stand as a giant water bowl.