Now that the December holiday season is right around the corner, finding that perfect tree for the holidays is a high priority.
The use of a decorated evergreen tree is not an original Christian idea. It is believed that Egyptians and Romans decorated trees for certain religious celebrations. Germans started the tradition, as we know it now, about 400 years ago. The Hessians, German troops employed by the British, brought the tradition over to the United States during the Revolutionary War. Since then, decorated evergreen trees have steadily become a staple of the holiday season.
Christmas tree production is an important part of Virginia’s agricultural industry. Virginia is ranked in the top 10 states for the number of trees harvested, the total tree acreage and the number of operations.
There are a variety of tree species commonly grown for Christmas trees; Fraser fir is a staple in the Mountains while Leyland cypress, white pine, Scotch pine, Virginia pine, Norway spruce and Douglas fir are grown in other areas of Virginia.
Christmas trees are started as small cuttings from larger plants or as seeds from a pinecone in a nursery. After growing for several years, seedlings are ready to be planted in the field. Depending on the species, a Christmas tree may take 10 or more years to mature and be ready for display.
When selecting a pre-cut tree, purchase a tree early so it will be fresh and full of water. You can also check for freshness by running your hand along a branch – if needles fall off, look for another tree. Or, bump the tree on the ground and if green needles fall off, the tree is not fresh.
Purchase a tree one foot shorter than the ceiling height in the room you will place the tree. Take a look at the trunk of the tree; if there are splits in the trunk, the tree will probably not take up water and is too dry. Also, the trunk should be 6 to 8 inches long for use in a tree stand.
Remember, locally grown trees will often be fresher than those sent from long distances. Although Christmas tree farms are hard to come by in the Northern Neck, there are choose-and-cut farms you can visit in Caroline and Spotsylvania counties. VDACS in cooperation with the Virginia Christmas Tree Growers Association issues a yearly Christmas tree choose-and-cut guide to help consumers locate nearby farms. Limited copies are available at the Extension office or can be found online at: http://vagrown.vi.virginia.gov
Once you have selected your tree, the work is not done. Cut a thin disk (1/4 to ½ inch) off the trunk before placing the tree in a stand with water, especially if you purchased the tree precut. This will help the tree take up water. Be sure to check that your tree has water everyday – a tree can drink well over a quart of water per day.
Be sure to check electric lights and connections before decorating the tree and do not overload outlets. Keep your tree well-watered to prevent drying and always keep the tree away from potential fire hazards such as the fireplace.
With proper care and safe placement, your tree will provide a perfect addition to the holiday season. For more information on selecting Christmas trees, reference VCE Publication 420-641: Selection and Care of Christmas Trees or contact me at 493-8924.
Stephanie Romelczyk is the Agriculture and Natural Resources Agent for Virginia Cooperative Extension in Westmoreland County.