Since President Franklin Pierce had the first White House Christmas Tree in the 1850’s American families have faced the task of choosing a tree that fits their lifestyle, demonstrates their passion for Christmas and is practical and economical.
Everyone has an opinion about the family Christmas tree–must it be live, cut or artificial? And what size–is bigger always better?
What about the shape, the color, the needle length, the branch strength and spacing, the needle-holding ability–and even the fragrance? We can always cut our own trees, but most of us purchase them from the nearest local seller.
Dawn Bryan, author of the best-selling “The Art and Etiquette of Gift Giving,” and founder of Qualipedia (www.thequalipedia.com), a consumer information and lifestyle website, offers the following tips to help shoppers choose the tree that is right for them.
Before making any decision, keep in mind where your tree will be displayed and know the measurements of the area before you purchase.
Trying to balance our love of tradition with practicality and current lifestyle, we can easily make the wrong decision. Ask yourself:
Are you the traditionalist who loves to make the season come alive while stringing lights and breathing in the fresh fragrance of your pine? Do you not have the space to store an artificial tree during the year?
If so, select a cut tree with good green color, needle resiliency, and pleasing fragrance.
How to Select a Live or Cut Tree:
- Check condition of the needles by bending the needle gently between your thumb and forefinger. The fresh needle should bend easily, not break
- Pull your hand toward you along the branch. Needles should adhere to the branch and not fall off in your hand.
- If a cut tree, lift the tree a few inches off the ground, then drop it on stump end. If outside needles fall off in abundance, it is probably not fresh. If old needles, which have been lodged among the branches from prior shedding fallout, this is not a sign of a dry tree.
How to Care For:
- Living Trees: Store before decorating in unheated, sheltered area out of sun and wind; While inside, keep soil damp; limit inside stay to 7 to 10 days; when moving to the outdoors, do not immediately change temperatures from warm house to freezing cold; when planting, mulch heavily over the top of the planted root ball to prevent freezing and water only when needed.
- Cut Trees: Cut a half-inch off the base of the trunk before immediately placing it into water; do not whittle down the sides of the trunk, as the tree drinks mostly from the edges of its trunk base; trees may drink as much as a gallon of water in the first 24 hours and one or more quarts a day thereafter; keep tree away from sun, fireplace and other heat sources; and unplug lights at night unless you are expecting Santa. To recycle, check the recycling link on your community’s website.
- Real Christmas trees are a renewable, recyclable resource, often grown on soil that doesn’t support other crops.
Are you time-compromised, afraid to climb ladders, not interested in needle clean-up and tree maintenance, or evergreen allergic?
If so, select an artificial tree that imitates your favorite variety or is in your favorite color. Many are pre-lit and some come with ornaments, berries, pine cones, flocking, frosting and fiber optics already in place.
How to Select an Artificial Tree:
- If you are looking for the most realistic looking artificial tree, purchase one with PE needles (rather than PVC), a center pole, and individual stick branch attachments.
- If your primary concern is buying tree that is easy to assemble, choose one with PE needles, a center pole, hinged branch attachments and pre-strung lights.
- Artificial trees come in a myriad of varieties, heights and shapes to fit into your space and decorating style.
- “Tip count” can be used as an advertising ploy, and usually makes little difference to the overall appearance, mattering much less than needle quality.
- For quality, look at the branch ends: well-crafted trees use heavier gauge metal and have sculpted, not snipped-off, ends.
- Lights: Look for three-year or 3,000 hour warranty, 80-100 lights per square foot, twist-proof sockets, the ability for the entire string to stay lit, even if a single bulb burns out, is broken or removed; and have 8-10 inches between lights.
How to Care For an Artificial Tree:
- With proper care, an artificial tree will last 6-7 years, making it an economical choice.
- Wear gloves and a long-sleeved shirt when putting up your tree.
- Store the tree in a carrying case, NOT a cardboard box. The latter will get damp and/or disintegrate and cause dust to inundate your tree, and critters like to chew through boxes to makes warm homes in artificial trees.
- Artificial trees off-gas volatile organic compounds (VOCs,) as they are made of PVC and/or PE and many contain lead, which makes the PVC more malleable. These trees are known to shed lead-laced dust.
- Artificial trees often are treated with a fire retardant which off-gasses.
- Artificial trees cannot be recycled. It is possible to donate a gently used tree to a local thrift store. If the tree is unfit for use, it must be taken to a landfill.