University of Illinois Extension
Bruce Spangeberg

These articles are written to apply to the northeastern corner of Illinois. Problems and timing may not apply outside of this area.

Stateline Yard & Garden

Time to Think Christmas Trees

November 27, 1997

This weekend kicks off the Christmas tree hunting season. Most area cut-your-own tree farms will be opening, along with many retail lots. While all are evergeens, all Christmas trees are not the same.

For example, firs, which have short, flat needles, make up one of the popular groups of Christmas trees. Balsam fir is a traditional favorite, with excellent fragrance and form. Fraser fir, which features excellent color and fragrance, has been increasing in popularity. Douglas fir, not actually a true fir, also has visual appeal and good needle retention.

Another group of Christmas trees are the pines, the most commonly planted species of Christmas trees in the North Central United States. Pines have longer needles than the other species, and typically appear "full" because of the arrangement of needles and branches. Scotch or Scots pine is popular and very common in tree lots and on cut-your-own farms. As with most trees, a number of cultivars are available, varying in color, needle length, and overall appearance.

Other pines include white, red, and Austrian pine. White pine has good color and soft needles. Branches are relatively weak and do not support heavy loads of ornaments, but it still is an excellent tree and does not readily dry out indoors. Red and Austrian pines have longer needles, with red usually being a more open tree and Austrian having very stiff needles.

Finally, spruces have short needles and branches that hold loads of decorations well. White spruce and Norway spruce have been traditional favorites, but needle retention is poor for both once the tree is cut and brought inside. Colorado blue spruce, a common landscape tree, has increased in popularity as a Christmas tree. This species has the best needle retention of the spruces, with the needles being rather stiff and branches rather rigid.

When choosing this years' tree, survey the family and then survey the Christmas tree farm or retail lot. With all of these choices, you can't go wrong! Get out early to take advantage of more favorable weather and better selection than what may be the case later in December.


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