Tree Facts: Christmas tree time is approaching

Farm Forum

The time to get a Christmas tree is fast approaching. About half of the Christmas trees used in the United States are real and half artificial. Surprisingly artificial trees were used in the United States before real ones. They were made of goose feathers dyed green developed by German immigrants in the mid-18th century. During the 19th century the Christmas tree tradition was adopted by the general population and natural trees came into general use. In the 1930s a bottle brush company invented an artificial tree made with green brush bristles that was used widely across the country. Even aluminum was used to make artificial trees for several decades in the 20th century but throughout the last 40 years the main ingredient has been plastic. Real trees are grown by over 21,000 Christmas tree growers throughout the U.S. The leading Christmas tree growing states are Oregon, North Carolina, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Washington, New York, and Virginia.

Regardless of whether you will be using a real or artificial tree it is helpful to do some planning on exactly where you will place the tree. Be sure to choose a spot away from heat sources, such as TVs, fireplaces, radiators, air ducts and also make sure it is away from doors. Measure the height and width of the space you have available in the room where the tree will be placed. Choose a tree that is suitable for where it is to be displayed.

Christmas trees sold on retail lots may have been cut weeks earlier and from hundreds of miles away. It is usually best to buy early before the best trees have been taken. Choose a tree with a healthy green appearance with few browning needles. The needles should be flexible and not fall off if you run a branch through your hand. Lift the tree a few inches off the ground and drop it on the butt end. Very few green needles should drop off the tree. Make sure the handle or base of the tree is straight and 6-8 inches long so it will fit easily into the stand.

Most artificial Christmas trees are made from PVC plastic that is fire-retardant. Pre-lit trees have become very popular. They are classified as electrical products and meet mandatory regulations and safety standards. Artificial Christmas trees may be “frosted” or “glittered” and designed for outdoor uses. Plastic trees come in a variety of different colors and some even have built-in speakers with MP3 players. Artificial trees are increasingly realistic made to closely resemble Douglas fir, Ponderosa pine or other common types of Christmas trees.

There are numerous evergreen species grown for Christmas trees. Christmas tree species can conveniently be divided into two groups – pines, such as Scotch and White Pine, and the single-needle conifers such as spruces and firs. Pines have their needles attached to branches in groups of two or more and single-needle conifers have needles individually attached to the branches. The most popular species sold for Christmas trees in South Dakota are Scotch Pine, Colorado Blue Spruce, Douglas Fir, Fraser Fir and Black Hills Spruce.

If you go with a real tree, make sure that it has a long enough handle to accommodate your tree stand. When you get it home, make a fresh one inch cut on the butt end and place the tree in a sturdy stand that holds at least one gallon of water, or a rule of thumb is one quart of water for every inch of diameter of the trunk. A well-cared-for Christmas tree will normally remain fresh for the entire holiday season.

My sources for this news release were the University of Illinois, Cornell University, Ohio State University, South Dakota State University Extension Services and Wikipedia. If you would like more information about “Christmas Trees,” contact Natalie Euler at the Conservation Office at 605-244-5222, Extension 4 or by e-mail at