Heading to the woods to cut the Christmas tree has been part of that holiday’s tradition since at least the 1500s. Today, most folks don’t have access to their own woods, and cutting Christmas trees on public land is no longer considered good practice. But that doesn’t mean you have to settle for an artificial tree or make choosing a real one into a routine retail transaction. This year, why not head on down to your local Christmas tree farm with the kids and make a day of choosing just the right tree and harvesting it yourself?
Cutting your own Christmas tree at a local farm is good for the local economy, might inspire you to create your own little tree plantation and will provide you with the freshest holiday symbol possible. But, before you embark on that most cheerful of excursions, carefully evaluate your tree needs to avoid problems when you get it back home. The most important consideration is the tree’s size.
- Measure the ceiling height in the room where the tree will be displayed. The trees in the field look small when the sky is the ceiling. Don't overbuy.
- Measure the width of the area of the room where the tree will be displayed. Most trees on tree farms are trimmed to an 80-percent taper. So a tree that's 10 feet tall will be 8 feet wide at the bottom. A tree that will fit in the room vertically may be entirely too big horizontally.
- What decorating theme will be used? Some species have more open foliage, stiffer branches or longer needles. Research the characteristics of the different species on the National Christmas Tree Association’s wWeb site, www.RealChristmasTrees.org, then find a farm near you that has the species you are looking for.
WHAT YOU SHOULD EXPECT WHEN YOU ARRIVE AT THE FARM
- Most tree farms keep their fields very well groomed, but there are some things that are beyond the farmer's control. Be careful of fire-ant mounds, tree stumps, an occasional blackberry vine, uneven ground and sharp saws.
- Go to the farm prepared for a day in the country. Wear comfortable shoes and old clothes. Bring rain gear if the weather is threatening. The 'cutter downers' and the 'loader uppers' should also have gloves. DON'T FORGET THE CAMERA. It's best to leave 'Rover' at home (many farms will prohibit pets), but, if a pet is allowed and must come along; keep him on a leash at all times. Please don't let him 'mark' other people's trees.
- Saws are usually provided by the farm operator. Check ahead of time.
- Some farms measure and price their trees individually; others sell them by the foot. Ask about the pricing policy before heading out in the field.
- Head out to the field and select the tree that fits your predetermined needs. Check the trunk to be sure that it is sufficiently straight. Keep in mind that pines will usually have, at least, some crook in their trunks. Also check that the tree has a sufficiently long handle to accommodate your stand.
- In the fall of the year ALL conifers drop, or shed, a certain portion of their oldest needles. This is a normal part of the life cycle of the tree. This phenomenon occurs because the tree is preparing itself for winter. Most farms provide shaking, or blowing, services so that you will depart with a perfectly clean tree.
- Cutting the tree is easiest as a two-person project. The 'cutter downer' usually lies on the ground, while the helper holds the bottom limbs up. While the cut is being made, the helper should tug on the tree lightly to ensure that the saw kerf remains open and the saw does not bind. The tugging force should be applied to the side of the tree opposite the cut.
- Bring the tree to the processing area where it will be cleaned and netted. Netting makes transporting and handling the tree substantially easier.
Now you're ready to load up and head home to decorate your Christmas tree.
Follow NCTA's tips for caring for a Real Christmas Tree, and keep in mind that the freshness of a tree you just cut is greater than that of one from a retail lot.
Trees from the Choose-Your-Own farm won't absorb as much water initially as other trees because it has not had time to dry out, unless you don't put it into a water holding stand right away.
Source: National Christmas Tree Association, www.ChristmasTree.org.