The Christmas tree of knowledge
Kyle Aurit, nursery manager at K&W Greenery, and Todd Darst, who runs two tree stands in Janesville—one on Delavan Drive near General Motors and another at Farm & Fleet—describe the varieties of trees and what to look for when you buy one.
Fraser fir—The Cadillac of trees, in Darst’s opinion. Dense and full with good coloring and contrast. The needle top is dark green and the underside silver blue. Highly fragrant and the longest-lasting of the varieties. Tends to have upright, sturdy branches to support ornaments. Has a softer needle. Also the priciest. A Fraser can cost $20 more than a balsam. At Darst’s, the smaller frasers start at about $15 with a 10-footer costing maybe $85.
Balsam fir—Still a very good fragrance with good needle retention. The smaller, flatter needle is a bit softer than the Fraser. Color is a natural, dark green. Tends to be less expensive than the Fraser because many are grown locally while Frasers are trucked in. At Darst’s, you can get a nice balsam anywhere from $20 to $35 with a 16- to 18-footer costing $90 to $100.
Scotch pine—Some fragrance. Medium needle with pokey ends so is more prickly than the other varieties. Sometimes, a faded green so must be painted or sprayed. Grows easily and quickly in our area, so are less expensive. Holds its needles and ornaments fairly well. Can be a bit crooked.
White pine—Some fragrance. A longer needle that is also the softest of any variety. Holds its needles but not its decorations because of flimsy branches. Also less expensive than the Fraser or balsam.
What should a consumer look for when buying a tree?
-- Give the tree a good shake or rub the needles with your fingers. The tree should not drop its needles.
-- Scrutinize the shape and height. Bring a tape measurer if necessary. Remember—the tree will look smaller outside than in your living room. Consider your available room—a slimmer tree might work better in your space than a full shape.
-- Get a fresh cut of the trunk at the lot and then get the tree in water. Fast. A tree can seal up in less than two hours. Never let the tree go dry. Be prepared to give it lots of water the first week. If it doesn’t take water right away, it’s a bad tree, said Todd Darst, who runs two tree stands in Janesville. He tells his customers to return it to the lot and he’ll give them a new one. Most trees will stay fresh for about a month, depending on such variables as sunlight, heat and humidity.
-- Sugar and other additives do not extend the lives of cut trees. Just water it. Water, water, water. Once it dries out, it can’t be resuscitated.
-- Tall trees are becoming more popular, so get those early in the season.