Gardening Tips: December 5, 2012

Holiday Trees
I was going to title this week’s column “Christmas trees” but you don’t have to celebrate Christmas to enjoy the custom of decorating an evergreen tree indoors. The custom is, in fact, decidedly not Christian, perhaps dating back to the Druids, a Pagan cult that preceded Christianity by a long time. Christian missionaries all over the world often incorporated local customs into their attempts to gather acceptance of their new religion.

Yule logs, Santa Claus, flying reindeer and the shopping orgy that accompanies all this are often frowned on by people seeking a more spiritual approach but everybody seems to love decorating trees!

Natural progression
Apparently the Druids worshipped nature and in that regard I guess I can identify with that aspect of their religion. There is something very pleasant and uplifting about having a real tree in one’s home for a week or two in the dead of winter. Of course millions of people have artificial holiday trees, which are nice decorations, but not the same as a fragrant, formerly living plant.

Some people do not like the fact that millions of trees are cut down solely to serve as our holiday focal point but these trees are grown for this specific purpose just as the turnips or potatoes you eat are grown as an agricultural crop. Most real holiday trees are grown for 10 to 15 years before harvest and in their lifetime they provide many benefits from generating oxygen to providing food and shelter to wildlife.

New York State has at least 1,000 Christmas tree growers. Most offices of Cornell Cooperative Extension can provide a list of local growers for you to patronize. A family excursion to go out, select and cut down your tree can be a wonderful and memorable experience. Even buying your tree from a roadside stand staffed by boy scouts or 4H kids can be fun, especially if you are a knowledgeable consumer.

Most holiday trees sold or grown locally are either pines, spruce or fir. Pines are easily identified by the fact that their needles are in bundles of two or five that are joined at their base whereas spruce and fir needles are single. Pines have the longest lasting needles of any species while the short and pointy needles of spruce are the first to drop once the tree dries out. Firs are intermediate is their needle retention between pine and spruce but most people agree that fir trees are the most fragrant.

Worth every scent
All evergreen trees will remain fragrant if properly handled after purchase. As soon as the tree is brought home, a fresh cut should be made on the base of the tree about two inches above the bottom. Put the tree in a pail of water and make sure the base is always in water while indoors.
A freshly cut tree may “drink” up to a quart of water a day. A “living” evergreen that has its roots balled in burlap should not be kept inside for more than a week or it will start to come out of dormancy. Ideally, the hole for the living tree should have been dug a month ago and the tree can be set in it right after Xmas.