CHOOSING YOUR CHRISTMAS TREE
At this time of year, all over the country, the debate will be held in many households, once more, about whether an artificial or a ‘real’ Christmas tree is aesthetically more pleasing, more traditional or indeed environmentally better.
The traditionalists, of whom I admit I am one, believe the real deal can be far better for the environment and not only smells wonderful but has a natural beauty far above that of artificial trees, even though they seem to get more realistic year on year.
So for you other traditionalists out there, I offer you my best advice for getting the best from your tree this festive season.
WHAT CATEGORY IS YOUR CHRISTMAS TREE?
Most of us choose to buy specimens from Category U: trees unsuitable for retention that cannot realistically be retained as living trees. These are trees with a serious, irremediable, or structural defect.
They are often severed at the main stem at or near ground level. It is possible to put the tree in a large bucket and bracing the stem with bits of plastic or wood to make it stand upright for a couple of weeks, but ultimately the tree will need to be removed.
The best advice for these trees is to cut an inch or so off the bottom of the stem with a pruning saw and set them up away from fires and radiators, in a stand with a well of water at the base. If you check them daily and top up with more water as required they should last 4 weeks.
ARE POT GROWN TREES BETTER?
In many ways they are, although it’s difficult to place them in any of the tree survey categories of course as they are really just nursery stock. If we look after them and reuse the following year it must be more sustainable than buying new each year, even if we do manage to dispose of the cut trees responsibly. The pot grown or containerised trees are generally easier to look after in the house, with less mess from needle drop.
Even so, pot grown or containerised trees should be set up in as cool a location where possible. It’s best not to keep them indoors longer than 12 days. The tree can then be planted outdoors or re-potted each year to the biggest size that can be moved comfortably (probably around 45cm diameter and depth). Christmas trees grown on in pots may only live for a few years though, as they are not naturally suited to ongoing pot cultivation.
Christmas trees planted in pots will be limited in their size by the constraints of the pot. But if planted out in the garden, Christmas trees can get very large, reaching a height of about 15-20m (50-65ft) in twenty years, and possible eventual heights of about 40m (130ft). The smallest growing Christmas trees are probably Fraser firs, which reach about 7m (23ft) after twenty years, attaining an eventual height of about 20m (65ft), and Korean firs, which reach 4m (13ft) in twenty years and an eventual height of 10m (33ft), so choose your tree, and the location, carefully.
HOW SUSTAINABLE ARE CHRISTMAS TREES?
Generally the trees are planted, grown and harvested as a crop so no real concerns over deforestation, especially for trees bought in the UK. It’s best to select locally sourced and grown trees where possible – which is not too difficult especially outside urban areas – but there is concern that some Christmas tree farms use harmful fertilisers and pesticides so you may wish to pay extra for an organically grown tree.
I followed a tip off that the soil association www.soilassociation.org/christmas and Forest Stewardship Council www.fsc-uk.org/ collectively provide information on suppliers, standards and certification that could steer us towards a guarantee of a sustainably sourced tree, but their websites although interesting and useful, did not reveal any such assurances.
Here is our quick guide to the most common tree types available:
Nordmann fir (abies nordmanniana)
This is Britain’s most popular Christmas tree and is relatively expensive at £35 to £45 for a 185cm tree. It is cone-shaped with open, spiky branches and a silvery bark. It’s soft foliage and dark green needles are very slow to drop and it will stay fresh for a long time if watered regularly.
Norway spruce (picea abies)
Once Britain’s most popular tree it is around £10 cheaper than the Nordmann fir. It has a good scent, with short, sharp needles (which are easy to hang decorations on) and is a lighter colour than the Nordmann. It is prone to dropping needles but regular watering and spraying with ‘Spray ‘n Save’ Christmas tree spray will help reduce needle drop.
Scots pine (pinus sylvestris)
If you are looking for something a little more unusual, the Scots pine has a bushy shape, has a strong pine smell and good needle retention. However, it’s long and twisted needles area little tricky to hang decorations on. Cost is similar to the Norway spruce.
Grand fir (abies grandis)
A pretty tall tree with a distinctive citrus smell, it has a glossy dark green colour with long needles that are 3 or 4 cm long. It’s a lot softer to the touch than others but may not be able to hold heavier decorations. It can be costly at a similar price to the Nordmann fir.
Blue spruce (picea pungens)
If you can find this species it will stand out from the crowd. Its foliage is quite prickly but has an eye-catching blue tinge which is difficult to cultivate. It has slightly better needle retention than other spruces. Cost is in the middle range of Christmas trees at around £30-£35 for a 185cm tree.
Noble fir (abies procera)
This tree is often used for making garlands. It has short, stiff branches that can be snapped off at the bottom to be used in wreaths or garlands. It has thick, broad needles with a silver underside, with good retention. It has a wide price range from £30-£50 for a 185cm tree.
Lodgepole pine (pinus contorta)
Similar to the Scots pine in shape and cost this tree has darker, straighter needles with a yellowish green hue. It has a very distinctive pine scent and very good needle retention.
Fraser fir (abies fraseri)
With the regular shape of a Norway spruce it is a dense and narrow tree, with short, flat, dark needles which are retained well. It has strong branches and is an excellent choice if you have limited space. Prices vary considerably in the range of £30-£45 for a 185cm tree.
Serbian spruce (picea omorika)
A favourite in Central Europe the Serbian spruce is a narrow tree and ideal for confined spaces. With upward pointing branches it’s ideal for hanging Christmas decorations. The downside is that needle retention is poor. Cost is similar to the Norway spruce and Scots pine.
Whichever tree you choose, break out the mince pies and sherry and, once decorated, raise a toast sing a verse or two of ‘O Christmas tree’ and enjoy.
HAVE A VERY HAPPY CHRISTMAS!