Needle points: What to know about buying a Christmas tree

HolidaysChristmasCalvin CoolidgeFranklin PierceWhite House

Do you have your Christmas tree yet?

Trees have been a part of American holiday celebrations since the 1850s. President Franklin Pierce was the first to place a tree in the White House,but it was President Calvin Coolidge who began the tree-lighting tradition in1923.

As the tradition has grown, so has our attraction to a particular type oftree. Are you a Douglas fir family? Or do you long for the unmistakable scentof a healthy Scotch pine?

According to the National Christmas Tree Association, 30 million to 35million real trees are sold in the United States every year.

I've shopped the grocery store lots, the charity lots and the discountstore lots. And I've developed a sense about what I need to know beforechoosing my tree.

So with the help of some tree experts, it's time to share that information.'Tis the moment to embrace the fragrant goodness of real trees and saygood-bye to the fakes.

The tree that's right for you

Carla Chance at Tree Town Christmas Trees in West Palm Beach says Fraserfirs are the most popular trees among South Floridians. "People like thembecause of the fragrance and the needle retention," she says. "Also because ofthe soft needles."

Other top-sellers include the noble firs, Scotch pines and spruces. "It's avery personal thing," she says. "You want to see one that just appeals toyou."

Chance says that before buying, customers should ask themselves where theyplan to place their tree and how they plan to use it. A tree near west-facingwindows or in areas that get lots of sun could dry out faster. Ditto for atree too near an air vent. Give your tree room to breathe, and if it's in asunny spot, check to make sure it stays hydrated.

Todd Walrath, with Trees for Kids for nine years, specializes in Fraserfirs. His downtown Fort Lauderdale lot was the only one I found that keeps thetrees in stands with water.

Chance says their trees move so fast, and certain types come in so often,that they do not keep them in stands. Plus, Chance adds, though they keep thetrees hydrated, "We have so many, we couldn't stand them all up."

Walrath says his lot has a loyal following that includes the Huizengas.

"Mrs. Huizenga has already been here to get her trees," he says.

And while Tree Town sells a special nourishment solution for $2.95 to helpthe tree maintain its beauty throughout the season, Walrath says, "All youneed is warm tap water."

Inside the Trees for Kids tent, the firs fill the area with anirrepressible holiday scent. And they pass the "needle" test. "Our needles arevery soft," Walrath says.

The Fresh Test

To test the freshness of a tree, carefully bend the end of the limbs, thengive it a little pull. The limb should feel elastic and bend easily withoutbreaking. And the needles should not come off in your hand.

Jack Lucas, owner of the Tree Town lots and a Christmas tree seller inSouth Florida for 25 years, says, "A good cut is extremely essential. Whenthat tree is cut on the farm, it sits awhile. The sap will then seal thetrunk. We give each tree a fresh cut to keep the sap flowing." A fresh cutensures that a tree will receive water from its stand and retain its freshnessthroughout the holiday.

Pros and Cons

Different trees offer unique advantages and challenges:

Fir trees: Typically have soft, velvety needles and wonderful fragrance.But their softness makes them less sturdy. Large, heavy decorations andornaments may not fare well on fir branches.

Pines, spruce: The Scotch pine is a hearty holiday favorite with sturdybranches. However, it does not have the same velvety texture of a fir. Theblue spruce also has wonderful fragrance and is excellent for large, heavyornaments, but its branches are prickly and should be handled with care.

Which tree is right for you? Check out the heights, origins and fun facts about these Christmas trees

Douglas fir

Source: Oregon

Sizes: 3 to 14 feet

Why we like them: They have thick, beautiful foliage, sweet aroma and long,soft needles.

Fun facts: The needles are dark green or blue green, 1 to 1 1/2 incheslong, soft to the touch and radiate out in all directions from the branch.Even though the branches are soft, be sure to wear long sleeves whendecorating. Douglases more dense than Fraser firs.

Noble fir

Source: Oregon

Sizes: 3 to 12 feet

Why we like them: They have incredible needle retention, sweet aroma,strong limbs.

Fun facts: In the wild, the trees are tall, beautifully symmetrical andgrow to more than 200 feet in height. The bark is smooth with resin blisterswhen young and changes to brownish-gray plates with age.

Fraser fir

Source: North Carolina

Sizes: 3 to 15 feet

Why we like them: They have excellent needle retention, fine fragrance anddark, rich color.

Fun facts: Fraser fir is a uniformly pyramid-shaped tree, which reaches amaximum height of about 80 feet and a trunk diameter of 1 to 1.5 feet.

Strong branches are turned slightly upward, which gives the tree a compactappearance. You can easily reach between the branches to grasp the trunk.Frasers sometimes come with a full pot-bellied shape.

Scotch pine

Source: Michigan

Sizes: 3 to 9 feet

Why we like them: It has good needle retention and strong limbs.

Fun facts: As a Christmas tree, it is known for its dark green foliage andstiff branches well-suited for decorating with both light and heavy ornaments.Be sure to wear your gardening gloves because when you grab for a pine, it'llgrab back.

Balsam fir

Size: 9 to 16 feet

Source: Nova Scotia

Why we like them: It is a traditional Christmas tree, has excellent aromaand is easy to decorate.

Fun facts: Bark is thin, ash-gray and smooth except for numerous blisterson young trees. These blisters contain a sticky, fragrant, liquid resin.

Blue spruce

Source: Michigan

Sizes: 5 to 9 feet

Why we like them: Moderate needle retention, strong limbs and beautifulcolor. These trees have a rustic quality that might be a perfect fit forsomeone wanting an old-fashioned Christmas decor.

Fun facts: Blue spruce is becoming more popular as a Christmas tree for itssymmetrical form and attractive blue foliage. It has an excellent naturalshape and requires little shearing. Many people use blue spruce as a livingChristmas tree, to be planted after the holiday season.

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