Tips to pick the best Christmas tree

Peter Dowdall gives some practical advice on choosing the right Christmas tree this weekend.  

To shed or not to shed that is the question. Well, it’s not that big a question really as I can’t imagine anyone wants Christmas tree needles falling all over the carpet or timber floor to be discovered in the strangest of places over the next six months.

I always give a small chuckle to myself when I see the sign saying ‘Non-Shed Christmas Trees For Sale’ and the reason I find it humorous is that all cut Christmas trees will shed if left for long enough.

Think about this for a second, it’s a dead tree that your bringing into a centrally heated house which will probably be situated in one of the warmest parts of the warmest room in the home of course it will drop its needles.

 I’m being a bit facetious of course as most of them won’t start to drop their needles for a few months even in those conditions.

First, we had the Norway Spruce (Picea abies) which were the Christmas trees that many of us grew up with and they are a nightmare in the house as they will start to drop their needles even before they come inside. 

The Lodgepole Pine (Pinus contorta) is one that I like but it’s different in form to the traditionally shaped tree, with the branches curving upwards and not layered like our favourite Christmas Trees. 

The Lodgepoles are particularly favoured in the USA I’m told. I’ve never spent the Festive season in the States so I can’t say with any degree of certainty but it is the one that you tend to see in American Christmas cards and pictures. 

Neither the Norway Spruce nor the Lodgepole Pine are widely available in Ireland anymore as the market demands a non-shedding tree with the perfect layered, full shape similar to what Santa has in his workshop.

Noble Fir (Abies nobilis) became very popular during the 90s and 00s and these are still widely available. These have a nice blue tinge and the shape can be fantastic. 

However, the shape can also be desperate, with branches growing off at weird angles and all the growth being to one side or the other and as a result the last 10 or 15 years has seen the Nordman Fir (Abies normanniana) take over as the tree of choice. A really good, dark green in colour, the growth habit will produce a naturally tiered and full, fat tree.

When you’re picking out your tree from the hundreds available in your local garden centre then here are some things you need to look out for:

It should be tall enough without being too tall. If your ceiling height is 8ft then don’t be tempted by the 12ft tree on display. It may look smaller when it is standing outside but the tape measure doesn’t lie. 

A 12 ft tree under an 8ft ceiling will not go and so you’ll be busy with the hand saw when you get it home, taking much of the fun out of the occasion.

As important as the height of the tree is width. You want a good fat tree but not something that’s so wide that you have to move all the furniture out of the room or even worse give herself ideas about building an extension.

Symmetry. A good tree should be well balanced and not have all the branches to one side. It should look good from all sides, unless of course, you are positioning it in the corner of a room in which case that may suit.

Make sure that the tree you are choosing looks fresh and isn’t turning yellow or brown in colour. Whatever about shedding its needles at home, make sure that it’s not dropping them outside before you’ve even purchased it. Give some or all of the branches a good shake to see how many if any needles drop. 

Finally, when you get it home give it a drop of water. Treat it a bit like you would a giant floral arrangement and keep the water topped up as this will hopefully keep it fresh enough to survive the entire Christmas period indoors.

Picking the perfect Christmas tree, especially if there are small children or fussy adults involved can often seem like a life or death decision and then after a few short weeks, when all the fuss has died down and we’re talking resolutions, the only decision facing us all is how to dispose of it. Please do so responsibly. 

There are Local Authority drop off points all over the country and these trees will be fed into the giant wood chipper and turned into mulch which in turn will be used by the Local authorities in planting schemes during the next few years.

BE WISE AND BUY LOCAL

Christmas trees seem to be available everywhere but I would strongly urge you to purchase yours from your local garden centre as they will be from sustainably managed forests and also because garden centres rely on this trade as a boost during their traditionally very quiet period.

It should be common sense to everyone now that if small local businesses aren’t supported then before too long, they will cease to exist. When you’re in the garden centre why not look at the section of living trees that are available.

A Christmas tree with its roots still on and growing in a pot, can come in for the few weeks of fun and then go back outside either into a bigger pot to come back in next year or to be planted outside for years to come.

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