Today’s post can be heard on the public radio show Crop to Cuisine, hosted by Dov Hirsch.
That magical time of the year is upon us, when we huddle in our homes hoping we don’t have to venture out in the cold. To make ourselves feel better, we cut down and bring a tree in to help us feel connected to the earth. As the scent of pine warms our hearts, the soft feel of pine needles under our feet tells us that another year draws to a close.
For those who love holiday trees – over 28 million were sold in the U.S. last year, according to the National Christmas Tree Association – careful selection and care can make the difference between enjoying your tree or tolerating it.
Decorators wanting light tones should look for White fir trees to grace the room. The one to one-and-a-half inch long, light blue-green needles are small, narrow and soft to the touch. Along the upper branches, needles curve upward in a pronounced fashion, giving the tree an upswept appeal.
Noble fir, with its striking color and form, is one of the prettiest trees on the lot. The one-inch long needles are deep green, but look silver due to two white lines on the upper and lower surfaces. As a bonus, the needles twist upward, exposing their flashy undersides to view. Their stout branches are ideal for holding ornaments aloft. They stay fresh for a while after cutting, letting you enjoy your tree well into January if you water it.
With its dark green color, Norway spruce appeals to those who want their tree to have presence in the room. But though it looks stout and sturdy, appearances can be deceiving: Norways often drop needles more rapidly than other holiday trees, which could explain its droopy, forlorn-looking branches.
If you want beauty and longevity, Balsam fir is the perennial favorite. Dark green, one to one-and-a-half inch needles are silvered underneath, curving upward and covering the twigs. The aromatic foliage lasts throughout the holiday season, perfuming your home with a fresh pine scent.
Longer, four to five-inch needles of White pine soften the look of the holiday tree, adding a cloud of silver green to the decor. Though it has little aroma, White pine might be a better tree for those who suffer allergies, according to NCTA.
Scotch pine is the most commonly used tree in the United States. Medium length needles – up to three-inches – can vary in color from bright to bluish green. But what seasonal celebrants love is the Scotch pine’s persistence in preserving its foliage: it holds onto the needles even if allowed to get dry.
Holiday trees need to have water in their stand to remain healthy. However, pines respond to harvesting by sealing off the cells at the cut end of the trunk with resin. This means the tree can’t take up water from the stand, drying needles and shedding all over the Persian carpet.
To keep your tree fresh, make a new cut one-inch from the end of the trunk, then plunge the end immediately into warm water to prevent the cells from sealing. This happens very quickly, so it’s best to have helpers poised with the water bucket as you’re cutting. From this point on, keep the tree from drying out or a fresh cut will have to be made.
Place your tree in a sturdy stand large enough to hold the tree upright and level on the floor. It needs to hold at least one gallon of water, or, if you have a huge tree, one quart of water for every inch of trunk diameter. There’s no need for sugar, aspirin, or other concoctions in the tree water.
Enjoy your tree this season by keeping watered and warm, but remember, holiday trees do best when placed away from hot air ducts, wood stoves, fireplaces and other fire hazards.