Christmas is well and truly just around the corner and whilst your thoughts may be on gifts, meals, crackers and cards, don’t forget the tree. And I mean a REAL Christmas tree not a tinsel one; a real tree complete with needles and, if you go down the really traditional route, that wonderful aroma that only a proper freshly-potted or freshly-cut Christmas tree can bring.
I’ve heard people say that a ‘real’ tree is bad for the planet; after all we’re meant to be planting trees, not felling them! But don’t forget, British-grown trees are most definitely not an ecological disaster zone – think of them as a crop plant rather like a field of cabbages, except that on the whole a field of Christmas trees will be given less fertiliser and fewer chemicals than many classic crop plants. So go on, make sure you get one this Christmas!
There are a few things you ought to think about before you buy your tree – it can be really daunting when faced with rows of different types at very varying prices, so what would suit you best?
Norway spruce (Picea abies)
The Norway spruce (Picea abies) is the traditional tree, definitely my favourite but perhaps not ideal if you are more house-proud. It has gorgeous, short dark green pointed needles and that unmistakable Christmassy aroma, but sadly it is the most likely to drop its needles. Having said that, if you treat it well it won’t perform badly and you can enjoy the lowest-priced of the real trees complete with the traditional look.
Serbian Spruce (Picea omorica)
The Serbian Spruce (Picea omorica) is quite similar to the Norway spruce and has long been the favourite festive tree in central Europe, with a distinct blueish tint to the underside of the needles. As it is fairly slender it is a good choice for smaller sitting rooms, and is good-looking with decent needle retention…but of course no Christmas-tree smell!
Nordmann fir (Abies nordmanniana)
The Nordmann fir (Abies nordmanniana) has become increasingly popular in recent years and is now the biggest-selling Christmas tree in the UK. As its shiny green broad needles are quite soft (making it a good choice if there are small children around) and are almost impossible to shift, it is certainly a good choice for those who hate any mess!
Fraser fir (Abies fraseri)
The Fraser fir (Abies fraseri) is less widely available, but the combination of its good looks and needle-holding ability makes it well worth considering. It has a narrower base than the Norway spruce so is also useful in smaller houses.
So, with all these tempting choices, hopefully you’ve been persuaded to take the plunge? But how do you make sure you buy the best tree of the type you’ve decided on? And how do you make it keep its needles and its appearance for as long as possible. It is important not to buy a real tree too early, as the longer they hang around after they’ve been cut the more likely they are to go downhill.
I always try to buy a tree produced by a member of the British Christmas Tree Growers Association – the BCTGA logo should be on the tree or clearly displayed nearby. Take time to choose the tree – check that it has a good, full shape and that it is not too gappy or lopsided (or if it does lean, make sure that this will be hidden when the tree is in your house). Check the needles – they should be glossy (for those varieties where this is a characteristic) and the correct colour for the type of tree you’ve chosen. They also need to be free from pests and diseases – basically anything yellowed or inclined to shed, or with white fluffy bits should be avoided at all costs. Never buy a tree that has already been netted as this makes it a real lucky
dip situation since you can’t see what you’re getting!
If you do buy one quite early then the most important thing is to keep it outside – just recut the end of the trunk and put the tree in a bucket of water in a sheltered spot outside. If it was in a net when you bought it, remove this as it is important to get air circulating around the needles.
When you bring the tree inside, try to avoid putting it anywhere too warm or close to a heat source , and make sure that you use a stand with a water reservoir and that you keep the water levels topped up – if kept supplied with water then even the notorious Norway spruce Christmas tree should hold its needles well.
When Christmas is over and it is time for the tree to come down, complete the green loop and make sure you recycle it – they’re not the easiest thing to recycle or compost at home, but many councils and garden centres now offer a re-cycling and Christmas tree chipping service.
Visit Pippa’s website at www.pippagreenwood.com for great gardening gifts: a stylish ‘Grow Your Own with Pippa Greenwood’ gift card (a perfect Christmas present, where the recipient receives their chosen garden ready vegetable plants in the spring and every week Pippa emails with topical hints, tips and advice), gardening tools, raised bed kits, GrowerFrames, signed books and more!