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Brandon Sun - PRINT EDITION

Gone Gardenin' - Artificial trees just don't cut it

Many garden centres create an indoor Christmas Tree Forest where the trees are hung to enable you to select that perfect tree in indoor comfort.

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Many garden centres create an indoor Christmas Tree Forest where the trees are hung to enable you to select that perfect tree in indoor comfort. (ALBERT PARSONS/FOR THE SUN)

The long needles of white pine are soft but this makes hanging ornaments on them a challenge.

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The long needles of white pine are soft but this makes hanging ornaments on them a challenge. (ALBERT PARSONS/FOR THE SUN)

The flat needles of Fraser fir are silver on the undersides.

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The flat needles of Fraser fir are silver on the undersides. (ALBERT PARSONS/FOR THE SUN)

The bright green balsam fir is one of the best trees for needle retention.

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The bright green balsam fir is one of the best trees for needle retention. (ALBERT PARSONS/FOR THE SUN)

One of the best things about Christmas is a real Christmas tree; at least in my opinio.

I know real trees are more work to put up, decorate, and take down; although they create more mess, and have to be watered regularly, I think a real tree is worth all of these inconveniences.

Have you chosen your natural Christmas tree yet? If not, here are some tips on how to choose that perfect tree. Even if you have already purchased your tree, you may not have put it up, so read on about tips for caring for your real Christmas tree and even some uses for it after the holiday season is over.

When you look over the trees at the garden centre, take a measuring tape with you so that you get the correct size of tree. The trees always look shorter in the outdoor lot than they do when they are toted into the house and stood up.

Although you can cut some length off the tree if it is too tall, why pay more money for a taller tree than you need? As soon as you get the tree home, saw a three-centimetre disk off the bottom of the tree. This will facilitate water uptake as resin soon forms over the end of the trunk after it has been harvested.

Immediately put the tree in water even if it is not going up right away. At the very least, store the tree outdoors in the shade and make a fresh cut off the bottom of the trunk immediately before you do put the tree up.

At the garden centre, run you hand through the needles — they should be soft and should not fall off when disturbed. The tree should have a fresh look to it and should have a fresh aroma.

A good way to check how well the tree has been harvested and stored is to lift it by its trunk and thump it down on the ground. If there is a shower of needles, then choose a different tree. Pass up any tree that appears to have a lot of dead needles clinging to the branches — they are unsightly and may indicate poor condition.

When you put the tree up — after taking the three-centimetre disk off the bottom of the tree — avoid placing it near a heat vent or fireplace.

Use plain water with nothing added to it in the container and be prepared to add water for the next few days; water uptake will gradually decrease.

What kind of tree should you buy? Washington State University did a 20-year study to test needle retention and other characteristics of different kinds of trees.

Here is a brief summary of their findings.

One of the best trees was balsam fir, a dark green tree sometimes with a silvery tint. It has excellent needle retention and its only drawback is the branches are often not sturdy enough to hold very heavy ornaments. One plus is they are usually Canadian-grown.

Fraser fir also rated excellent for needle retention. Its stiff branches are slightly upturned and well spaced for hanging ornaments; its green on the top and silver on the bottom flat needles are attractive. The downside? It is a slow growing tree so it is usually one of the most expensive trees.

Noble fir also rated excellent for needle retention and has upward turning branches, which gives it a nice shape. This characteristic also makes its branches popular for making wreaths and garlands.

Several other firs, including the Canaan fir and grand fir, rated excellent for needle retention but both have soft needles and pliable branches that make them difficult to decorate. This characteristic is shared by white pines, whose wonderfully soft, long needles draw us to them, but also make it a difficult tree to decorate.

The Scotch pine, on the other hand, has sturdy branches, good needle retention,, and sturdy branches. For years, it has been by far the most popular Christmas tree, although the firs have lately caught up to it.

Whatever kind of natural Christmas tree you choose, after you take it down and remove all the decorations, take it to the local chipping-mulching site. That is what I do with ours but only in the spring. For the rest of the winter it sits outside, stuck in the snow bank near our birdfeeders where it contributes some colour and beauty to the winter landscape. The needles will stay green until very late winter when the tree is taken to the composting site.

I wish all my readers a very Merry Christmas. May the peace and love of the season surround you.

Albert Parsons is a consultant for garden design and landscaping who lives in Minnedosa.

» communitynews@brandonsun.com

Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition December 19, 2013

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One of the best things about Christmas is a real Christmas tree; at least in my opinio.

I know real trees are more work to put up, decorate, and take down; although they create more mess, and have to be watered regularly, I think a real tree is worth all of these inconveniences.

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One of the best things about Christmas is a real Christmas tree; at least in my opinio.

I know real trees are more work to put up, decorate, and take down; although they create more mess, and have to be watered regularly, I think a real tree is worth all of these inconveniences.

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