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The Perfect Christmas Tree

from MSN.com
December 1, 2006

MSN Lifestyle gets the expert scoop on how to find it, and how to make it last.

Whether you know it or not, Joe Sharp may have grown your last Christmas tree.

Sharp is the owner of Oregon’s Yule Tree Farms, one of the five largest tree farms in the country. Every holiday season, his 3,800-acre farm supplies corner lots, nurseries, hardware stores and supermarkets across the U.S. and Canada with fresh-cut evergreen bounty.

MSN Lifestyle asked Sharp for tips on finding the perfect Christmas tree, making it last in your home and cleaning it all up after the holidays.

MSN Lifestyle: What makes a good Christmas tree?

Joe Sharp: First, you want it to be fresh. It’s got to be recently harvested. Take a look at the butt of the tree, where it’s been cut. The darker the wood, the older the cut. With most firs especially, the wood is pretty light when it’s first cut. That’s what you want to see. If the tree isn’t fresh, it’s going to be dehydrated, and it won’t take up water as well from your stand. That’s going to shorten its shelf life.
Then, you want to make sure it’s been shaken. A good farm will shake its trees before selling, to get rid of debris and needles. You want that stuff to stay outside, on the farm, not come into your house.

MSN: Any other criteria we should keep in mind when shopping for a tree?

Sharp: Hold the needles in your hand. Lightly brush them against your palm. If a whole lot of needles fall off, the tree is too dry. Don’t buy it. One or two needles isn’t a problem, but more than that is a warning sign. Then of course you want to see that the tree is symmetrical. Some people like them fuller, some like them more open, with space between the branches. It’s all personal taste.

MSN: Is there a “perfect” Christmas tree?

Sharp: The truly perfect tree is more rare than not, but yes. Out of about 1,700 trees per acre, on a farm, there are about 10 to 15 that are “perfect.” That means no holes in the branches, and a distinct cylindrical shape. You know, just exactly what you think of as “Christmas tree-shaped,” narrowing the right amount at the top. The color matters, too: the brightness of the green. People know a perfect tree when they see it. For that kind of perfect, premium fresh tree, you could pay up to $150 to $200. But that’s the top of the line. Most are less.

MSN: Have our tastes in trees changed over the years?

Sharp: I’d say our tastes have changed quite a bit. When trees were all cut in the wild, the taste was for a more open, natural tree. Now that most are plantation-grown, with hand-sheared tips and all, people want a fuller tree with dense branches.

MSN: Do different parts of the country choose different types of trees?

Sharp: Yes. In the West they prefer noble firs, and in the East, Fraser firs are more popular. In the South, they like the Douglas firs. Grand firs are popular in the mountain states. In the Northeast, there are three: Fraser fir, Douglas fir and balsam fir.

MSN: What’s the best way to ensure your tree lasts as long as possible?

Sharp: The most important thing to do is to cut a half inch off the butt of the tree and put it in water as soon as possible. Lots of retailers will do the cutting for you now. Another thing is, when you bring the tree home, don’t bring it in the house right away. Put it in the garage or a sheltered space, in a 5-gallon bucket of water (remembering to cut a half inch off the butt). You can even leave it bound up, just let it acclimate itself there. I’d leave it for a day or so.

MSN: Do you have any tips for post-season cleanup?

Sharp: The best one is the garbage bags that you put down underneath your tree skirt. When it’s time to get rid of the tree, you pull the bag up around the tree and stand, and pick it all up together to carry it outside. That brings all the needles out of the house with the tree.

Joe Sharp’s Christmas Tree “Best Of” List

Best seller: In volume, Douglas fir. In value, noble fir.

Best for big spaces: The noble fir. “It’s a big, full tree.”

Best for small spaces: A potted living tree. “Something like the trees we sell at Oregon’s Noble Vintage. They’re fragrant, and they’re only about 36 inches to 48 inches tall. After Christmas, you can donate it to a park, plant it in the backyard, put it in a median — whatever you want.”

Personal favorite: Noble fir for the look and feel, grand fir for the fragrance. “This year I’ll have a noble. Come to think of it, maybe I’ll have a grand, too.”