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Tips for a top real Christmas tree

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Ditch the tinsel – go for a real tree

A real tree or an artificial one? It’s an argument that’s gone on in our house for many years – the other half doesn’t want the bother of the needles, putting it up and disposing of the corpse.

On the other hand, I think it is one of the integral parts of the festive season, and one of the only incentives I have to clean in the year.

A live tree’s reputation of dropping needles comes

Christmas tree
Last year’s lodgepole pine

from two main sources: the only trees you used to get were Picea abies (Norway spruce), which does drop. This was made much worse by trees not being watered. Think of a Christmas tree as a huge vase of flowers – you wouldn’t leave that without water, would you?

Also, think about where you buy them – I avoid the big DIY stores, etc, and go to nurseries – it’s a welcome boost at a terrible time of year for the trade. Head for somewhere who has a good reputation and expertise in buying and selling trees – you usually find they’ll deliver, too.

Of course, you can go straight to the grower, if you’re lucky enough to live anywhere near a commercial plantation.

If you decide on a live cut tree (without roots), the bestselling “non-drop” tree is the Nordmann fir. The blue spruce has an attractive colour and holds its needles well. The Douglas fir can cost more than others, while the balsam fir holds its needles even as its branches dry out. Last year, I bought a lodgepole pine, which was a good buy, as its branches don’t stick out too far.

When picking a tree, here are some good tips:

  • Make sure it is relatively free of brown needles.
  • Go to a reputable supplier who’s knowledgeable about trees and can cut off a bit off the bottom of the trunk to make sure the tree will absorb water. This should be done less than an hour before putting the tree in the stand.
  • Check regularly to make sure the tree has enough water.
  • Do not put the tree near a window, fireplace, radiator, stove or other sources of heat, as this will increase the chance of the tree rapidly drying out.
Potted Christmas trees with a rootball
Potted Christmas trees with a rootball

Your other option is a live tree with a rootball. Obviously, because of the weight, you’re going to get a smaller tree (and they’re expensive), but the advantage is you can plant it outside in the garden when you’re finished.

However, if a live rootball tree is inside for longer than 10 days, it will be less likely to survive once planted. Before bringing it inside, put it in the garage or in the porch for a few days, so it is not as shocked by the temperature difference. You’ll want to do the same when bringing it back outside.

My mother did this when I was a child, but planted it next to the front door. It had to be removed when it outgrew its welcome.

Environmentally wise, most trees come from Christmas tree farms, not natural forests, and are replaced. Most council now offer a recycling scheme after Christmas, too.

The British Christmas Tree Growers’ Association has a list of sellers on its website (www.christmastree.org.uk).

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Mandy Watson is a freelance journalist and an incurable plantaholic. MandyCanUDigIt grew from the tiny seed of a Twitter account into the rainforest of information you see before you. Gardening columnist for the Sunderland Echo, Shields Gazette and Hartlepool Mail and editor of the Teesdale Mercury Magazine. Attracted by anything rebellious, exotic and nerdy, even after all these years. Passionate about northern England and gardens everywhere. Falls over a lot.

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