Choosing this year’s Christmas tree

By Bruce Bennett, The Garden Guy

It’s December already and I’m still looking for greenery for my house. Only, this time, it’s for the interior of the house. Not something small and pretty, if you please.  I want potential, presence and perfume. I want a Christmas tree!  And, as a gardener, I don’t want an artificial one. 

I want the REAL McCoy, a graceful sentinel which will fill the house with fragrance and create a centerpiece on which to hang the ornaments my wife and I have been collecting for each year we have been married or that have been given to us by friends and family. Every year, the task is the same—What type of tree do we purchase this time? If you are in a similar predicament, let’s spend a few minutes talking about the most popular Christmas tree species in the Seattle area and their pros and cons.

I prefer real trees as they are beneficial for the environment. They can stabilize topsoil and create wildlife habitats while they are growing. After they serve in their holiday roles, these conifers can be reused and recycled as mulch, fish habitat, plant stakes and streambank stabilization. They decompose in just a matter of a few years whereas an artificial tree will lay in a landfill near forever.

From firs to pines to spruces, there are good dozen or so evergreen conifers that are candidates for the best Christmas tree. After looking at the wholesalers around our greater Seattle-area market, you can expect to see the same five or six varieties. My (admittedly subjective) list includes these top four for your consideration:  

Douglas Fir

DOUGLAS FIR 

The Douglas Fir is a quintessential Christmas tree that’s sure to make a statement in any home during Christmas. Growing predominantly in the Pacific Northwest, it accounts for nearly half of all Christmas trees in the United State. Together, with the Noble, they account for around 80% of the Christmas trees sold. The Douglas Firs have soft, shiny green-blue needles. They are one of the densest of the Christmas trees, and, if it has been trimmed to form a perfect cone shape, it can be almost too tight to decorate properly. Still, it’s a popular selection for holiday shoppers due to its subtle seasonal scent, widespread availability and budget-friendly price. On the downside, Douglas firs don’t last as long as other types of Christmas trees. So, choose a freshly-cut tree only a few weeks out from the holidays. Other firs to consider are the Noble, Fraser, Balsam, Concolor, Grand and Nordmann Firs.                                                 

BLUE SPRUCE

Blue Spruce (AKA, Colorado Blue Spruce) is what you want if you would prefer a ‘White Christmas’ (with or without Bing Crosby singing the tune in the background). This Rocky Mountains native tree looks like it’s dusted in snow with its waxy grayish-blue needles and has dense foliage perfect for decorating. The tree has a strong fragrance and a perfect Christmas tree shape as well And, this is a narrow species, reaching around three feet in diameter. Good for a tight space. The needles range from gray-blue to a silvery blue and are fairly sharp, (so not an ideal choice for little fingers!) and the scent is not outstanding.  However, this is one of the best species for needle retention. And as the tree makes a good ornamental, it’s becoming increasingly popular as a “living” Christmas tree. Other spruce to consider are the Norway and White Spruce.

SCOTCH/SCOTS PINE

The Scotch/Scots Pine is another “Go-To” Christmas tree candidate. It has stiff, upward curving branches that make it great for holding ornaments and bright green needles that grow in double clusters and range between one and an impressive three inches in length. It won’t drop its needles even when it’s dried out. But, wear gloves when handling as the needles can be sharp. It is one of the best choices for hanging both light and heavy ornaments. The Scotch Pine has excellent water retention when cut and its durability makes it simple to replant, so you can use it as a living tree year after year. The other pine to consider is the White Pine.

RED CEDAR

The Red Cedar may be a surprising candidate.  But, here it is.  Before cultivated Christmas trees became readily available, this was the Christmas tree of choice for many people due to its conical form and fairly long-lasting greenery and pleasant scent once cut.  Because it’s a member of the Juniper family, it has soft, pliable leaves rather than needles and this makes it less suitable for hanging heavy ornaments. The color range for this variety is wide, including dark green, bluish-green, silvery, gray-green and bronze.  The other cedar to consider is the Deodar.

Reminders: Whatever variety you choose for your Christmas tree, gently pull on the end of the branch with your thumb and forefinger. Fresh trees should hold onto all their needles. If a tree loses needles when you do the pull test, keep looking. When selecting its place of honor in your home, keep the tree as far away from heat sources and air ducts as possible. Make sure to give it a fresh cut at its base (at least 1 inch off the bottom) before placing it in a stand. Give your new house guest water immediately and regularly to ensure that it lasts a full four weeks—maybe even five! With any luck, you’ll still be enjoying your tree as you ring in the New Year.

If you have questions generated by this article or topical suggestions for 2022 articles, feel free to contact your Master Gardener Santa at [email protected]. With all that said:  From my home to yours, here’s wishing you a warm and festive holiday season. May 2022 see us all come back to a greater sense of normalcy, appreciation for one another and life in the garden. Happy Holidays all!

Contributing garden columnist, Bruce Bennett, has been a WSU Master Gardener, landscape designer and lecturer for some thirty years.  He is an adjunct faculty member in Washington State University’s College of Agriculture, Human and Natural Resources and a writer for the King County Master Gardener Foundation Newsletter.

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