PICKENS COUNTY — For some people, as soon as the last bite of turkey is eaten on Thanksgiving, there’s only one thing on their mind: It’s time for Christmas.
Others tend to wait a bit before getting their holiday cheer on.
Either way, whether your house already rivals that of Clark Griswold, or you’re just getting started, The National Christmas Tree Association — yes, that’s a thing — has some well-researched advice for getting the most out of your Christmas tree.
Step number one? The great debate: Real or Fake?
The decision between a fresh cut or artificial tree can be a tough one to make. Fresh trees can drop needles, require watering and can come with some unexpected “gifts” like allergies, insects and the occasional squirrel …
On the other hand, they smell amazing and look absolutely beautiful.
Artificial trees come without the risk of critter infestations, but can can be pricey depending on how big you go and how “real” they look.
On the flip side, many brands now come pre-lit (saving Dad’s sanity) and the tree itself can be stored away for use in the years to come. Besides, you can always spray a little pine-scented Glade if you’re really hankering for that piney smell.
If you’ve decided to go with a real tree, you still have some options: buy one from a tree lot, or go chop down your own.
Now, the American Christmas Tree Association (ACTA) doesn’t seem have a preference between the two, but they do have some pointers to help out no matter which way you decide to go.
First things first, measure your space.
This seems like a no-brainer, but trees often look smaller on the lot — and even smaller out in the woods. The last thing you want is to pick out the “perfect tree” only to discover it won’t fit in your living room.
“Be sure you know what size (height and width) you need before heading to the retail lot,” ACTA says. “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’ tall will be 8’ wide at the bottom. A tree that will fit in the room vertically may be entirely too big horizontally.”
Secondly, think about what type of decorations you will be using.
Some species have more open foliage, stiffer branches or longer needles. ACTA suggests researching the characteristics of the different species and then find a farm or lot near you that has the species you are looking for.
If you are headed to a lot, ask questions about their trees.
“Ask the retailer when they get the trees: are they delivered once at the beginning of the season, or several shipments during the season? Often, a tree obtained soon after its arrival on the retail lot will be very fresh because it was cut recently,” ACTA says. “Also ask the retailer which tree type performs best in your climate. Some species last longer and remain fresh longer than others in different climates.”
If you’re on lot, don’t forget to do a branch/needle test for freshness.
Run a branch through your enclosed hand – the needles should not come off easily. Bend the outer branches – they should be pliable. If they are brittle and snap easily, the tree is too dry. Move along.
Other indicators for a not-so-great tree might include: excessive needle loss, discolored foliage, musty odor, needle pliability and wrinkled bark.
“A good rule-of-thumb is, when in doubt about the freshness of a tree, select another one,” the organization said. “If none of the trees on the lot look fresh, go to another lot.”
If you’re still leaning towards the Paul Bunyan approach, 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 the family dog 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 but call ahead of time to double check if you need to bring any supplies.
When it comes to the chopping part, remember, cutting the tree is easiest as a two person project.
The “cutter downer” — very technical term — 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.
In the case of the Leylands, the cut is best made by an attendant at the farm using a chain saw. A back cut should be made first with the final cut coming from the opposite side.
When you get your tree home (and check for squirrels) make sure to water it. ACTA states displaying trees in water in a traditional reservoir type stand is the most effective way of maintaining their freshness and minimizing needle loss problems.
“To display the trees indoors, use a stand with an adequate water holding capacity for the tree,” ACTA advises. “As a general rule, stands should provide one quart of water per inch of stem diameter.”
Reach Kasie Strickland at 864-855-0355.