Each Christmas season, millions of trees are purchased from lots and tree farms across the world. Few realize that the use of decorated trees as the centerpiece of this joyous celebration is a relatively recent tradition in America. Most historians agree that the first decorated Christmas trees appeared in the U.S. in the mid 1800s. These trees were cut from natural stands of timber that surrounded the population centers of the time. As with most human tradition, the use of decorated Christmas trees evolved over the subsequent 150-year period to the production and distribution system that we know today.
The trees that grace our homes each year at Christmas are not newcomers to planet Earth. Most have been our neighbors for centuries, predating even the very first Christmas. So, where did these trees come from? How did we find them? Where do they grow? How do we grow more? And do we use them for things other than Christmas trees?
Before you leave the house, measure the height of the room that you want the tree to fit into. Don’t forget to factor in the height of the tree stand! You should also consider the width of the tree, which can vary wildly. ‘That’s why you should also never buy a Christmas tree ready-wrapped,’ advises Craig Roman. ‘When a tree is in the netting you don’t know what you’re getting. It could be too wide for your room or too uneven in shape.’
A cut tree should be fresh when purchased. Brush it gently with your fingers or tap it lightly on the ground – if it sheds lots of needles, it may be an old tree. Avoid any brittle branches and dull needles. ‘Like cats and dogs, you can tell if trees are healthy by the sheen of their coat,’ adds Craig. ‘Ideally, the tree should be a shiny, glossy green.’
Also, choose a tree that isn’t pre-wrapped in netting,’ advises Wyevale Garden Centres’ Mark Sage. ‘This allows you to really see the shape and ensure branches aren’t bent into an upwards position.’
‘Trees left in netting aren’t able to benefit from air circulation and begin to form a micro-climate. This means the tree begins to warm up, drop needles and decompose at a much quicker rate.’
Getting it home – first steps
Cut off the netting to allow the branches to settle, and saw off about half an inch (2.5cm) from its base in order to open up its pores – just as you would do with fresh flowers. Next, put it in a bucket of water and keep it outside in a shady, sheltered spot until you’re ready to bring it indoors. Just before you carry it into the house, give it another gentle tap to shed any loose needles.
Once inside, stand your tree in a container that you can top up with water to help it last longer. You may be surprised by the amount of water it will drink!
How to decorate your real tree
Yay, it’s the fun bit! However, preparation is everything. Before you even think about touching a bauble, secure the tree in its holder or pot.
‘Avoid whittling the trunk of a tree to fit a stand,’ says Mark Sage. ‘Always buy a bigger stand as whittling can remove the most active cells from the outside of the trunk and make the tree thirsty as a consequence.’
Next, add any strings of lights, starting a the bottom.Now it’s time for the ornaments. Organise them by size, and hang the biggest baubles on the larger branches, and smaller trinkets on the more delicate sprigs.
‘On my own trees, I always fix the decorations to the tree with wire, rather than string,’ says Craig Roman7. ‘This means I can completely control where they sit, rather than rely on where they hang.’
Always make sure your tree trunk is immersed in water – ideally try to top it up every day as trees are thirsty fellows! Keep your tree in a cool, dry space, away from radiators or fires, and always remember to turn off your lights before going to bed. Larger bulbs can potentially dry out or even scorch the needles of your tree.