By Renate Tilson

Ah, the freshly cut Christmas tree! The age-old tradition and beloved icon of the season. Sawing down a fresh tree is a little trouble, but well worth it. Cut tree sales continue to be strong year after year, despite the attributes of artificial trees. Since Oregon is the nation’s largest producer of holiday trees, it’s easy for us to choose a fresh-cut tree. 98% of our Tannenbaums are grown on farms, not in forests. So by choosing a living tree, you are supporting our state’s economy, not denuding the landscape. 

Even though artificial trees look nice and can be less hassle, I think most people prefer the fresh, piney scent of the real thing. There is something about the aroma that takes me right down memory lane and the family celebrations of my childhood. If you decide on a living potted tree, be sure to place it away from heat sources, including wood stoves, fireplaces, and hot lights. Here in the Willamette Valley, it should do well when planted outdoors after the holidays. Do the prep work now for planting your indoor living tree outside by digging a hole 12 inches wider than the tree’s spread, then line it with mulch. Avoid placing it near foundations or overhead wires.

Perhaps you have chosen to have an artificial tree this year. There will be no dropping of needles and no watering necessary. There is also no fresh tree smell, but as you put the plastic tree back in its box after the holidays, you will be reminded how easy the cleanup is. The Sierra Club reminds us that if you do use the same man-made tree each year, you are only tapping into our petroleum supply once, and that is good news.

You can cut down your own tree at a number of local farms, but when selecting your fresh Tannenbaum at a stand, be sure to get a recently harvested one. Fresh trees have a strong fragrance, drop fewer needles, and most importantly are more fire resistant. To test for freshness, grasp a limb and run your hand down the branch. Every tree will shed a few needles, but if you end up with a handful of them, find a different tree. Shake it by the trunk; it may produce a few loose needles, but if the tops of your shoes are suddenly brown, leave that tree behind. When it comes to the very important question of choosing the right size, remember that trees tend to look smaller outdoors. Tree stands add a few inches to the height of the tree, and then there’s always the additional height of the special treetop ornament to consider.  

Once at home, if you’re not going to set the tree up right away, plunge its base into a bucket of water. Park the tree in the shade outdoors and give it a nice shower with the garden hose. When you are ready to bring it in, make a fresh cut of about an inch or so off the bottom. That helps ensure maximum water absorption so your tree will stay fresh longer. A cut tree can soak up a gallon or more of water in its first 24 hours indoors.  Afterwards, it will require about a quart a day. Moisture is critical to the tree’s beauty, so check and replenish it daily. After your holiday celebrations have ended, remove the ornaments and prop your beauty outdoors to provide a haven for birds and other critters. Cut off a few branches and use them to protect perennials from winter’s chill. And of course, there is always the option of taking your tree to be recycled for some fragrant mulch.