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The joy of cutting and choosing your own Christmas tree

Many images come to mind when we think of Christmas — stockings hung on the mantle, kissing under the mistletoe, snowflakes clinging to the window, delicious holiday goodies —but most of all, the rich aroma of the lush and stately decorated evergreen standing in the living room.

Old World Europeans thought the evergreen had special powers because, according to the National Wildlife Federation’s book, Trees of Christmas, they “stayed green while the rest of the forest turned brown.” They were certainly on the right track, for these trees do hold special powers: Birds flock to them for shelter; squirrels depend on the seeds within their pine cones; they provide a forever green canopy on a hot summer’s day; and a touch of welcome color on a dreary winter’s day. And, according to the National Christmas Christmas_Tree Association, over 34 million are purchased each year to add beauty to our homes during the holiday season.

While many people opt for an artificial tree, there’s nothing like purchasing a live one — and, for an outstanding daytrip certain to rekindle your family’s holiday spirit, a visit to a nearby Choose-and-Cut Christmas tree farm is a great way to begin the holiday festivities. Besides spending a couple of hours breathing in the fresh aroma of the evergreens while deciding on your ‘special’ tree from the thousands available, many of the farms also offer free hay rides, refreshments, and hot cider — all guaranteed to make your outdoor shopping experience lots of fun and most memorable.

Don’t worry — you don’t have to be a lumberjack in order to cut down the tree of your choice, It’s easy. While axes and chain saws aren’t allowed, at most farms you’re welcome to bring your own bow saw or borrow one at the farm, and either cut down the tree yourself, or have it done for you while you watch. After, the tree farmers will gladly bundle your tree securely and tie it onto your vehicle for safe transport home.

Thanks to W. V. McGalliard, a Mercer County, New Jersey resident, New Jersey was the first state in the nation to begin the tradition of choosing and cutting one’s own tree. In 1901, he wisely planted about 25,000 Norway Spruce on farmland considered worthless for growing crops. When the first trees were ready for harvest in 1908, customers converged upon his farm eager to tag live trees for later delivery, or to cut them down on the spot to carry home with them.

For many years, McGalliard’s trees sold for a dollar each. Today, the majority of trees grown by Christmas tree farmers include Blue spruce, Norway spruce, White spruce, Scotch pine, Mexican Border pine, White pine, Douglas fir, and Concolor fir. Prices are determined by type, size, and number of years it takes to grow. For example, a Douglas fir takes ten years to mature whereas the Blue Spruce takes 14. Each year in New Jersey, Christmas tree farms sell approximately 600,000 trees for about $10 a foot for Scotch and White pine; $9 a foot for Douglas fir and Norway spruce; and $11 a foot for Blue Spruce and Concolor Fir.

The Douglas fir is one of the most popular trees for Christmas because it’s beautiful, aromatic, lasts a long time, its needles won’t hurt you when touched, and the branches are strong enough for hanging heavier ornaments. Although the needles of the Blue spruce hurt when touched because the ends are pointier, it’s more expensive. Needle retention is considered excellent on all the pine and fir trees, especially the Blue spruce which holds it’s needles well, followed by the Norway and White spruce.

John E. Perry, executive secretary of the New Jersey Christmas Christmas_Tree Growers’ Association (NJCTGA), suggests that before cutting a tree, you decide where you’d like to place it in your home. “Think about the height of your ceiling and whether the ornaments you’ll be hanging will be heavy or light,” he cautions. “This will determine the species, size, shape, and density of the tree you purchase. Remember, too, that trees appear smaller in the field, and while it’s important to check for freshness, this isn’t a matter of concern when a tree is cut a day or two before being brought indoors.”

If you prefer purchasing a tree closer to home where trees have already been cut, such as a nursery or Farm & Garden Center, the NJCTGA suggests testing for freshness by placing a needle between your thumb and forefinger, bring your fingers together and, if bent gently, the needle from a fresh tree should bend, not break. Also, lift the tree a few inches off the ground, drop it down on the stump end, and if you see a great number of outside green needles falling off, the tree may not be fresh.

KEEPING YOUR LIVE CHRISTMAS TREE FRESH

To ensure that the tree you lovingly chose will last through the holidays, the NJCTGA recommends the following:

•Leave the tree outdoors, protected from wind and sun, until you’re ready to decorate it. If you’ve purchased one more than a week before you want to bring it inside, keep the tree trunk in a large container of water.

•Before bringing it indoors, make a fresh straight cut across the tree trunk about an inch up from the original cut and immediately place it into a stand or container capable of holding a minimum of one gallon of water and fill it with fresh water.

•Check the water level each day and don’t allow it to drop below the trunk end or the tree will dry out much more quickly.

•Keep the tree away from any heat source while inside the house, but if it’s possible, bring the tree into a partially heated area (basement or porch) the night before decorating so it adjusts gradually to the warmer temperature in your house.

WHY BUY A LIVE TREE?

•Tree farms create and maintain green belts and open space, help to minimize soil erosion, protect water supplies and quality, and provide habitat and environmental diversity that is utilized by a variety of wildlife.

•It takes 5 to 15 years to grow a Christmas tree. Because the young trees have a high rate of photosynthesis, they produce more oxygen than older trees.

•One acre of real trees produces the daily oxygen requirements for 18 people.

•Real trees are recyclable. Many towns pick them up after the holidays for chipping into mulch and compost; they can be used as brush piles for wildlife habitat, beach and sand dune stabilization and protection; or put in the back yard to protect the birds from the cold during winter.

SAFETY TIPS

•Check all electric lights and connections.

•Never use lighted candles on the tree.

•Unplug tree lights before going to bed or leaving the house.

NEW JERSEY'S LOCAL TREE FARMS

To find a tree farm close to home, call an association’s tree hotline found in the Yellow Pages for your state.

MISTLETOE

Did you know that mistletoe is a sign of love and friendship in Norse mythology? It’s also believed to have healing powers in numerous cultures and also, some believe that opposing armies will lay down their arms when they are united under the mistletoe.

Here in Florida, you can see live mistletoe in certain trees, and it looks like a big bird’s nest depending on how long it’s been on the tree. The habit of kissing under the mistletoe began in early England, but the original translation called for a berry being plucked before anyone may be kissed. That’s pretty hard to do when the mistletoe is usually found high up on one of the branches! Still, when all the berries are gone, the kissing period is over.

 

 

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