Oh Christmas Tree, Oh Christmas Tree…


Well Thanksgiving is over and the next thought in many people’s mind is to decorate their Christmas tree. Are you one of the estimated 25 to 30 million people who will purchase a live Christmas tree this year to display in your home? If so, let’s look for a moment at the history of how we decided that it was a smart idea to put a tree in our house and what we can do to ensure that we don’t have a brown, needle-less Charlie Brown tree on Christmas morning.

There is much debate about whether the Christmas tree is a pagan symbol, although most historians agree that it was. In order to not cause controversy, I’ll abstain from placing emphasis on this debate and instead focus on the history of the Christmas tree in the United States. It is believed that Hessian troops during the Revolutionary War were the first to introduce the idea of a Christmas tree to the colonies. The idea didn’t particulary catch on until Charles Minnegerode decorated an evergreen tree in Williamsburg, Virginia. The first Christmas tree lot was opened in New York in 1851 and the rest is history.

There are many types of trees available but by far the most popular are the the Frasier fir and pine. Frasier fir have a deep green, stiff appearance whereas pines are lighter green and softer to the touch. It’s a matter of personal preference as to which you choose but keep these thoughts in mind as you select your tree:

  • Make sure you know the height of your ceiling before you head out…this may sound like common sense but if you have a vaulted ceiling, make sure you know the height first
  • If you are going to a Christmas tree lot, ask the attendant when the tree was cut because obviously, fresh is best
  • Look for any needle drop…it’s natural for the tree to lose some of its interior needles but you don’t want your tree losing any more needles than that
  • Pull a couple of branches through your hand…you shouldn’t end up with a handful of needles when you’re finished


Once you get the tree home, follow these simple tips:

  • Make a fresh cut 1/2″ thick at the base of the tree to ensure that the tree can take up water
  • Make sure that your tree stand can hold enough water to keep the tree alive…you’ll need at least a gallon for the average size tree
  • Keep your tree out of direct sunlight and away from sources of heat like fireplaces and heating vents
  • Check your tree stand daily to make sure that there is enough water to sustain the tree
  • Some experts say that all you need is water in your tree stand to keep your tree from browning out early but others believe that you can prolong the life of your tree by adding a few simple ingredients. Andre Viette, a renowned plantsman, uses a mix of Karo syrup, Epsom salt and Clorox to keep his trees alive longer. Check out his website for his recipe.


After the kids have unwrapped their presents and the yuletide joy is over, you have to think about what you are going to do with your tree. If you are fortunate enough to have a pond or know of someone who does, you can chuck your tree into the pond (undecorated of course!) as it makes a great area for fish to seek shelter. Another option is to dispose of it in your woods and allow it to compost naturally; the birds and other small game will appreciate the shelter from the winter weather. If you’re in a subdivision the above options are out of the question, but fortunately most localities have a Christmas tree recycling program. There’s no sense in cluttering up the landfills with leftover Christmas trees when they can be shredded and turned into mulch and compost.

Or, if you’re like me, you can put up an artificial tree and enjoy decorating it with the family. Whether you choose to buy a live Christmas tree or put up an artificial one, the real joy is the time you spend with your loved ones, recalling where each ornament came from or the significance of them. I’d love to hear your stories of decorating your tree…send them to stacey@midatlanticgardening.com. Happy decorating!

November 29, 2011Permalink Leave a comment