A Christmas tree is a staple holiday decoration. You basically have two choices — real or artificial. A fresh-cut tree adds to your holiday décor in fragrance as well as festivity. Finding a fresh tree and keeping it fresh for almost a month (or longer) can be a daunting task.
Fresh trees vary from pre-cut to those you cut down yourself. Locally, you have about 10 or so different types of trees to choose from. When it comes to an Arkansas-grown tree, you have fewer options.
Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana) is the native tree that many people remember from their childhood. Eastern red cedars grow naturally throughout Arkansas, and, in Christmases past, many families just cut a cedar from a fence row or from the woods behind their house. The eastern red cedar is normally quite dense, has an outstanding aroma, a pleasant green color and a natural “Christmas tree” shape. Its drawbacks include sticky needles, weak limbs that don’t always support ornaments and a tendency to dry out quickly once indoors. You may find dry needles stuck in the carpet months from now.
Virginia pine, Leyland cypress and Arizona cypress are the main species being grown at Arkansas Christmas tree farms. Virginia pine (Pinus virginiana) is a short-needled pine with a pleasant pine fragrance, dense foliage and good growth rates. Leyland cypress has the traditional Christmas tree shape, but if kept moist, will outlast almost any other cut tree with the least amount of needle shed. Arizona cypresses are similar. The cypress foliage varies somewhat from one cultivar to the next, but in general, it tends to be arranged in irregularly flat planes. Leaf color will vary by variety from shades of green to bluish-green. Stem strength is sometimes limiting with large ornaments.
While the above species are commonly grown in Arkansas, numerous conifer species are brought in for the pre-cut tree sales. Pre-cut trees have typically been cut a month or more in advance and sprayed with a desiccant to help prevent them from drying out, but they are not as fresh as a tree you cut yourself. We have nearly 20 Christmas tree farms in Arkansas. All have trees for you to cut down and haul home, but some also sell pre-cut trees as well. Check with your local grower.
Probably the most popular pre-cut tree is the Fraser fir. Fraser fir leaves (needles) are flattened, dark green with two broad silvery-white bands on the lower surface. The combination of form, needle retention, dark blue-green color, pleasant scent and excellent shipping characteristics have made the Fraser fir popular.
The Noble Fir has been considered an excellent Christmas tree for years because of its beauty, stiff branches and its durability indoors. It is also widely used in the greenery business to make wreaths, door swags, garland and other Christmas products. The needles are roughly four-sided (similar to spruce), over 1-inch long, bluish-green but appearing silver because of two white rows of stomata on the underside and one-to-two rows on the upper surface. The needles are generally twisted upward so that the lower surface of the branches is exposed.
Blue spruce has been growing in popularity as a Christmas tree as a result of its symmetrical form and attractive blue foliage. The layered branching structure also makes them easy trees to decorate. The species has an excellent natural shape and requires little shearing. It also holds its needles the best of all the spruces, but that isn’t saying much, since many spruces dry out quickly.
There are a few other species out there, but regardless of which type of tree you choose, the key to success is plenty of fresh water. When you get your tree home, cut an inch or two off of the trunk to help it to accept water. Try to keep the tree in a cool room, and either close off or redirect the heating vent away from the tree.
Christmas trees are a holiday tradition. If you choose a real tree, consider supporting a local Arkansas farmer. Study your options, and let the decorating begin!
Fresh Christmas trees, like this popular Fraser fir, add to holiday décor in fragrance and in festivity.