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How to pick that perfect Christmas tree

For those of us who like the smell and appearance of a natural Christmas tree, our time is near. This weekend is when many of us will be out seeking the perfect Christmas tree to decorate for the holidays.

For those of us who like the smell and appearance of a natural Christmas tree, our time is near. This weekend is when many of us will be out seeking the perfect Christmas tree to decorate for the holidays.
Many choose to head into the woods and find that natural appearing tree growing in a stand of evergreens.
Others visit a tree lot covered with hundreds of perfectly shaped trees to select their favorite from the many available. Still others visit a cut-your-own tree farm and tromp through the field looking for that perfect tree.
Whichever way you choose, there are a few things to consider before selecting your tree.
First, let's talk about your needs. Do you like to put your tree up early and leave it up late? Or do you like a tree with stiff branches to hold those 12-pound ornaments you just had to have?
Maybe you prefer a tree with wonderful fragrance. Or you have small children and are worried about them getting poked in the eye from a still evergreen needle. Possibly, you're on a tight budget and need an inexpensive tree. How tall of tree do you need?
Once you have decided what you want, it's time to go out looking. If you are heading into the woods to cut a tree, make sure you have proper permission to do so. It could be costly if you don't.
If you are planning on purchasing your tree from a tree lot, visit a couple. Make sure the price you are about to pay is fair for your tree.
You will usually find a large difference in price from lot to lot, depending on the type of tree you are selecting and the quality.
Trees that have been sheared for that perfect Christmas tree shape are usually more expensive. This is because they need more care and are usually a few years older than unsheared trees.
Always know the type of tree you are getting, and yes, there is a difference. In our area you can choose from fir, spruce or pine. Each type has unique characteristics that you should consider before you choose.
Fir trees available in our area include balsam and Fraser fir.
Balsam is the most popular and can be easily found growing in the countryside. However, if you want a nicely shaped tree, you will more than likely have to purchase it from a grower. Balsam fir has soft needles, is very fragrant, and retains its needles well into the New Year. They are reasonably priced and can be found at most tree lots. It's a favorite of mine.
Fraser firs are perfectly shaped trees with strong branches for heavy ornaments and have the best needle retention of any of our locally available trees.
It is a favorite of the crazed Christmas tree decorators who love to pack on the ornaments. Fraser fir is also the most expensive tree available in our area.
Spruce trees can make great Christmas trees. However, you must consider a few things before you buy. Spruce should be put up late, preferably just a few weeks before Christmas, and removed soon after.
If left up too long they can dry out and be a danger for many reasons. Spruce are usually economical and have very ridged branches for decorating.
Pine trees available in our area include white, Scotch and Norway.
White pine is the softest needled trees available in our area and may be a great choice if you have young children. White pines also retain their needles well but have little to no fragrance and are usually so densely sheared that they are hard to hang ornaments on.
Until recently, Scotch pine was the most popular Christmas tree grown in America. It has ridged needles and branches, slight fragrance, and will retain its needles well if properly cared for. Scotch pines are reasonably priced and readily available at most tree lots.
Norway Pine has the longest needles of any tree available in our area. They are smooth to the touch and stay on the tree long after the New Year. Be sure when selecting a Norway that you examine the trunk for straightness. They can be a little crooked and sometimes difficult to straighten in the tree stand. Norway pine is the most fragrant of the pines available, and can fill a room with a wonderful pine scent.
Once you have brought your tree home, it's time to care for it. Before you place it in the tree stand, cut about an inch or so off the base of the tree. This will help insure that your tree will be able to take water as it is needed. Be sure to then check your water level about every other day to make sure it has enough. Initially, your tree will take up lots of water, then slow down to barely needing any water by the end of the season. If you allow it to dry out it could lead to needle drop and a potential fire hazard.
When selecting a site, don't place it in direct sun or near a heating vent, and never place your tree near a fireplace. That can be very dangerous.
Tom Kasper is the city gardener/park maintenance coordinator. Send e-mail to him at Tkasper@ci.duluth.mn.us .

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