Choose a tree for fragrance, symmetry and durability

By: Gloria Young,
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The rush to put up a Christmas tree begins the day after Thanksgiving. For some it is as simple as unpacking it from a box in the garage. For others, it’s a family trip to a commercial lot or tree farm to find the perfect, symmetrical fir, spruce or pine. Before launching that search, take some time to calculate just how much tree your chosen space at home will allow. The beautiful sweeping green boughs that catch your eye in the outdoors may look a lot bigger once they’re inside. At Pine Valley Ranch in Auburn, owners Bob and Sharon Hane have been growing Christmas trees for more than three decades. Their country acreage is filled with hundreds of trees from recently planted seedlings to towering visions of green. “We have Douglas fir, grand fir, Norwegian spruce, Colorado blue spruce and Colorado green spruce,” Bob Hane said. “We also bring in separate cuttings of noble firs from our ranch in Oregon.” And, of course, there are plenty of Scotch pines. One of Hane’s favorites — and a top seller — is the noble fir. “Noble is one of the best trees for supporting more weight and more ornaments,” he said. “And it has good needle retention.” As an example, he pointed out a decorated noble fir in the office that was cut down before Thanksgiving. Several weeks later, its needles were still firmly attached and pliable. Another popular variety is the grand fir. It has longer needles than the noble fir and they’re in dual colors — dark green on top and silver on the bottom. “It’s a good choice for fragrance,” Hane said. “The branches have more give than the noble fir, which impacts the weight and number of ornaments (it will hold).” Then there’s the Douglas fir, with bright green needles that grow in a rounder pattern on the stem, rather than the flat pattern of the grand fir. “It’s No. 3 in fragrance behind the grand fir and the noble fir,” he said. The Scotch pine is close behind the firs in popularity. “Its branches are more malleable and the needles are stiffer,” Hane said. “The tree is good for holding ornaments but the branches break easily.” If you’re not cutting it yourself, a good way to gauge the age of a pre-cut tree is to bounce it on the ground or pull on the needles. “If the tree is starting to feel dry and is already shedding needles, it could be a month or even two months since it was cut down,” he said. Once you get the tree home, watering is crucial to ensure it stays green and retains the needles through the holidays. When they are harvested, trees quickly cover that cut with a coat of sap — a defense mechanism. So, in order for the tree to take in water, you must cut off the bottom inch or two inches and then immediately put the trunk into water. “You should check it three times a day for the first week,” Hane said. “The first week it will drink about a quart of water a day.” Starting the second week, you’ll only need to check the water level a couple of times a day. “It will drink a little less water the second week,” he said. Placement of the tree is also crucial to keep it vibrant through the season. “Don’t put it next to an open fireplace or heat register,” he said. On Monday, Auburn resident Karen MacDonald and her husband were browsing for a tree when an pre-cut noble fir caught their eye. They’ve made the trip to Pine Valley Ranch for a number of years and often take home one of the choose-and-cut varieties. “We’re looking for a Douglas fir or a Noble fir — something that will take the weight of our ornaments,” she said. The Hanes reforest every year following the Christmas season — using a replacement rate of 110 percent to take into account gopher damage and tree disease, he said. Tending the crop is a year-round job and includes annual trimming to create the classic conical shape. “We trim the trees in two or three different ways,” Hane explained. “Some are taller and thinner while others are shorter and fuller. We try to have a type of tree to satisfy all our customers.” At Tuma’s Foothill Trees in Auburn, Elias Tuma has been growing and sells Scotch pine and cedar since 1998. “We have trees from 3 feet to 30 feet,” he said. Keeping the tree hydrated is key. “If you keep it watered, it can stay a month,” he said.