24 November 2009

Real Or Fake: What Type Of Christmas Tree Is Right For You?

Shreveport Times

With Thanksgiving Day just around the corner, we all know that Christmas will be here almost before we can turn around twice. And in a majority of the homes across our country preparations for the Christmas holidays are already underway. This generally means that shoppers will be out in force looking for the perfect Christmas tree. Now comes the time for decisions. What kind of tree will be the best choice? Will it be some species of evergreen or should an artificial tree be considered? What size best suits your needs — one that stretches from floor to ceiling or one that will fit nicely on a table?

First, let's think about the advantages and disadvantages of artificial versus natural. Artificial trees are usually almost perfect in shape while natural trees may be close to perfect, but typically show a small flaw somewhere in the canopy. These small flaws are rarely a problem as the flaw can be positioned so that it is not noticeable.

Size is limited with artificial trees, while natural trees can be so large that they will not fit into a house. But, after all, how many people can actually use a giant tree from the forest?

Artificial trees more and more are sold with a set of lights already in place, which simply means that decorating is made somewhat easier. You can, of course, still buy artificial trees without lights at a lower price and simply use a Christmas light storage bag to make life easier for yourself. Natural trees, on the other hand, are not equipped with lights in place. Mother Nature is good and resourceful, but she hasn't figured out yet how to install lights before the trees are harvested.

Storage is still another aspect of artificial compared to natural. Between Christmases, artificial trees must be stored somewhere. Even though many are made to fold to some degree, larger ones consume a good bit of space. With all of the storage facilities you see around the area you get the idea that all too many homes have insufficient storage space and have to rent extra space from the storage businesses. Do you have storage capacity for a large tree when the Christmas holidays are over? There are many varieties of Christmas tree storage bags which will compress the tree for saving precious space.

Natural Christmas trees are "short termers." Once harvested from the farm or forest their life span diminishes by the day until in the post-Christmas period they are only of value as compost material, erosion control, temporary bird cover and fish habitats. There is one exception: live trees that are purchased for a brief stint inside the house preparatory to being planted in the landscape can enjoy a long term, beneficial life. Species for this purpose must be carefully chosen, however, as a majority of the natural trees offered for sale in our area are northern species that will not survive in our climate.

That brings us to the price of artificial trees and natural trees. Both are expensive for the time that we use them. Since artificial trees, if properly cared for and stored, can last for several years, the per year cost drops the longer the tree is kept and used. Thus, a tree that costs $300 initially and is used for 10 years costs only $30 each year. When used for 20 years, the annual cost is only $15. Obviously, you would need to add in the cost of an artificial Christmas tree stand with wheels, but you're going to need a stand with any type of tree.With natural trees being good only for a single season (with the exception noted above), the purchase price is the total cost for one year. Nostalgia, however, supersedes dollars and cents with many of our senior citizens and they are willing to pay for a natural tree that has the fragrance and look of the trees they have enjoyed for a lifetime. You no doubt will be seeing a lot of good advice relative to buying a natural Christmas tree in the following weeks. I would like to offer the following tips:

Check both price and quality at several places before making a purchase.

Buy a tree of correct size for the place it will be used. Remember that tree stands add to the height of a tree.

Look for freshness. Fresh trees have needles that don't shed easily when you move them, are still sticky at the base of the trunk and usually have a nice smell — a forest fragrance if you will.

Check for branch structure. Strong branches having angles of 45 to 90 degrees with the trunk give better support for heavy decorations.

Observe density of the canopy. Species with more open canopies allow ornaments to be hung deep within the tree while those with dense canopies limit ornament placement to the branch tips.

Know your species. Firs and Leyland cypress tend to stay attractive after being cut for longer periods of time than spruces, pines and cedars.

Cut an inch off the base of the trunk and stand the tree in a tub of water outdoors as soon as you get the tree home. Let it absorb moisture for 12 to 24 hours before moving it into the house. This extends the attractive life considerably. Another way to extend tree life is to spray it with an antidessicant, such as Wilt-Pruf or Cloud-Cover.

Use water stands for longer tree life and reduced fire hazard. Keep stand filled with water.

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