People with artificial trees often have them up and decorated the first of December. Some real trees might last that long but chances are that many of the needles would have fallen off by Christmas.
Trees that are cut down locally are native white spruce, black spruce and lodge pole pine. Permits are available through Alberta Sustainable Resources and convenience stores in Western Alberta. A $5 permit allows the holder to go to the West Country to Crown land and cut three trees from specific areas: ditches, right-of-ways or under powerlines.
White spruce are easily recognized by their short stiff needles.
Black spruce looks similar to white spruce when they are young. As they mature the black spruce have longer spaces between branches giving it a straggly appearance. Black spruce trees grow in wet swampy areas.
Lodgepole pines have long needles and branches that always point upwards. Their stem is usually visible as their branches have not been trimmed into a matted cone.
For those that find it easier to purchase a tree, most Christmas tree outlets have been in operation since the beginning of December. Many of the trees on these lots come from growing fields in British Columbia, Ontario of the United States. Trees on lots are not usually native to Alberta.
Balsam fir tends to be the most sought after tree. It has dark green foliage and holds its fragrance for most of the season. Growers like them as they require little if any pruning.
Douglas fir are also popular with growers and consumers. Their needles are similar to those of the Balsam Fir; short, flat and soft. Many people will not differentiate between the two types of fir trees.
Scotts Pine and Eastern Pine both have very long needles. These trees are pruned into a solid cone shape. Decorations sit on the outer edge of this tree.
The cost of the trees, reflect the work that went into growing and maintaining them as well as the cost of transportation. The trees are planted, watered, weeded, pruned and fertilized to ensure that they are the correct shape and make it to the market as soon as possible.
When choosing a tree, shape and size is a major consideration. The condition of the tree is also very important.
Before buying a tree on a lot, unwrap it pulling branches down to find the trees’ shape.
It is hard to discover missing branches and flat sides if all the branches are wrapped upwards.
Check to see if the tree is dry. Are the needles dry and falling off?
If in doubt, drop the tree on its stump and look for lost green needles.
Check to see if the branches are flexible. Branches are brittle if it is bitterly cold outside or if the tree is dry. Trees dry out quickly once they are in a heated area. Starting with one that is already dry means that more needles will be gone by the time the Christmas season is over.
As soon as the tree is brought home, re-cut the stem and place it in water. Trees like all plants will attempt to seal the bottom of a cut stem to stop the loss of sap. This action also stops the upward flow of water. Making a new cut will allow the tree to take up more liquid.
Store the tree in a cool shady area until it is to be placed in the house. Once in the house it should be placed away from air registers, fireplace and direct sunlight.
Ensure that the tree has water at all times or the tree will block tubes and not take up water for the rest of the season. A properly cared for, fresh, tree will last the holiday season with minor needle loss.
Linda Tomlinson is a horticulturalist and educator living in Rocky Mountain House. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org