As the holidays approach, I thought it would be a good idea to look at evergreen trees. (Please note that not all evergreen trees are pine trees.) What should you look for in a live tree? Its size should be appropriate to the setting where you plan to display the tree. The tree should be able to hold on to its needles. It should have a pleasant fragrance and overall shape, and its branches should be sturdy. Most important, the tree should appeal to you. It's a bit like falling in love—you know when it is right! This means that these specifications are not going to be the same for everyone. However, let me help you make a decision.
Needle-retaining ability depends on the type of tree, when it was cut, the humidity of the room where it is displayed, and the availability of water. Firs (trees with flat needles with rounded tips growing directly on the stem or with a very tiny stem), especially concolor, Douglas, and Frazier, keep their needles for a long time. Concolor fir, also called “white fir,” has bluish green needles. Douglas fir are not really fir trees at all, but I do love their pyramid shape. The needles (leaves really) grow in bunches. Frazier fir branches angle upward and are a yellow-green.
I think that firs have the best fragrance, but I also love the smell of white pines. Pine trees (that is, trees with sheathed needles attached in clusters of two to five) generally keep their needles the longest. White pines are easy to recognize as the needles are attached in clusters of five (the same as the number of letters in the word “white.”) The branches bend easily, so you wouldn't put on heavy ornaments.
I also love spruce trees for a small room as they have a narrow growth habit. Their branches are whorled. Spruce needles are each attached by a small peg. Blue spruce has strong branches for ornaments. If the fragrance of a an evergreen tree is a health or personal issue, the spruce may be the tree for you.
I am sure some of you are saying, “I am really surprised at Carol Ann's enthusiasm for cut trees. What is she thinking?” Well, trees sold in New York State are grown as a crop just like your purchased tomatoes. These trees are grown on tree plantations. Since the trees take a number of years to grow to a salable size, they provide habitat for birds. Tree plantations also conserve soil and contribute to the oxygen content of the atmosphere in the process of photosynthesis. The cutting of these trees is not ruining forests. They are maintained with an eye on their ultimate size and shape.
When you are finished with your tree, you can choose environmentally sound ways to recycle it. Use cut boughs on perennial plants to deter their heaving and to reduce their drying out from winter winds. Cut trees can also be sent to composting facilities in some Western New York communities. This way, they directly reenter the cycle of life in the process of decomposition. You can't say any of this about an artificial tree—it will reside in a landfill for many, many years. Real trees are the way to go this holiday season.
Carol Ann Harlos is an award winning retired math and science teacher, Master Gardener, beekeeper, garden writer, and speaker. She tends extensive gardens, including herbs, and loves sharing her knowledge and learning from others. Send gardening questions and comments to email@example.com