Picking The Christmas Tree

Christmas tree
CBS/The Early Show
With Christmas less than three weeks away, it's time to start thinking about getting the family Christmas tree.

The Early Show's Melinda Murphy went to Big John Leyden's Christmas Tree Farm in West Greenwich, R.I. to obtain some tips on how to pick out the perfect tree and maintain it through the holidays.

Farm owner John Leyden says he has more than 100,000 trees with 15 different species. The farmers buy a tree when it's 2 years old and about 6 or 7 inches tall. Then they plant it in transplanted beds for two more years and by the age of 4, it's ready to put into the ground. Depending on the species, it will be 10 or 12 years before the harvest

Leyden says when picking a Christmas tree, the first thing to look for is freshness. If you are buying from a farm, it's definitely fresh, especially if they don't cut it until you pick it.

If you are picking from a group of cut trees (like a retail lot or a garden center), bend the branches to see if they snap. If they do, don't buy it because it is old and dry.

Leyden also recommends bending the needles. If they bend easily, the tree is fresh. If they break, keep looking.

The third thing to check is the butt of a tree. Turn it upside down to make sure it is sappy. If it's not, the tree was cut ages ago and is almost dead.

Some of the more popular trees are Fraser Fir, the Blue Spruce and the White Pine.

The White Pine: It is a very airy and dense tree that is long lasting. Like all pines, it has long needles, with this particular pine variety having fine needles in a cluster. It is a very fluffy tree with good needle retention.

The Blue Spruce: The tree has a range of colors, from green to a greenish-blue, hence the name. It has very strong branches, which is great for people who have old, heavy Christmas ornaments. The only down side is that the tree has very pointy needles.

The Fraser Fir: Leyden says the tree is "The King" of the Christmas Trees. It has a tremendous aroma and is very airy, so you get great depth when you put decorations on it. It is also a very lightweight tree. Like all fir trees, the needles are flat and very dark on top and silver underneath.

If you are cutting a tree, you usually will use a saw because of the low branches. Never use an ax. The cutter usually lies on the ground with the saw, as a helper holds the bottom limbs up. While the cut is being made, the helper should tug on the tree lightly to ensure that the saw kerf remains open so the saw does not bind. The tugging force should be applied to the side of the tree opposite the cut.

If a chain saw is used, a back cut should be made first, with the final cut coming from the opposite side.

After you cut the tree, Leyden says that you should have it wrapped with some type of netting to bring it home. This makes it easier to transport; protects the tree when you bring it in the house; and makes it easier when you put it in the stand. Unwrap the tree once it is in the stand at home. This might cost a couple of extra dollars, but Leyden says it is worth it.

Once the tree gets home, Leyden says you should make a second cut in the trunk, sawing off about two inches. This gets the juices flowing again. Then you should put the tree in a large bucket of lukewarm water for a few hours before putting it into a stand.

The tree stand is very important. Leyden says to make sure to get a stand that fits your tree. You don't want to cut the bark around the base of your tree to make it fit into the stand. This destroys the cambium layer - the protective layer that allows the tree to absorb water.

Also, make sure your tree stand holds at least two gallons of water; the tree needs lots of water. A new tree put in a stand can drink more than a gallon of water in the first 24 hours that it is home.

Once the tree is up, make sure you continue to check and fill the stand with water. If you keep the tree watered, it can last four to six weeks. The National Christmas Tree Association says to be careful about adding things to the tree's water. They say plain water is usually the best (water temperature doesn't matter), but Leyden recommends putting a preservative, like Prolong, in the water. The preservative kills the bacteria and keeps the tree fresher longer.

After the holidays, you can recycle your tree. Most communities have their own chipping machines where you can take your tree and turn it into mulch. Then you can take your mulch back home and use it for gardening.

Leyden says another way to cut up your trees is to take the trim off (or leave some on like tinsel) and put it in your yard. Dress it up with popcorn or nuts and it makes a great birdfeeder. Eventually it will die. And when it does, you can cut off the branches and use it for mulch. Now all you have is the trunk. Most towns have recycling programs that will take it.

You don't want to cut up your tree for firewood because it's too sappy, according to Leyden. But you can cut off the limbs and use them as a wind block...draping them over your bushes that can't withstand the cold.

Other uses for the trees after the holidays are they make effective sand and soil erosion barriers, especially at beaches; sunk into fish ponds, trees make excellent refuge and feeding areas; and balled and potted trees can be planted in the yard for added years of enjoyment.

There are currently about 1,000,000 acres in production for growing Christmas trees. Each acre of trees provides the daily oxygen requirements of 18 people, and tree farmers plant two or three seedlings for every tree cut down. It takes a seedling anywhere from 7 to 15 years to grow to an average height of 6 feet. Also, real trees are biodegradable and recyclable, where fake trees made of plastics (using petroleum products) and metals are not easily recyclable and can contain possible metal toxins such as lead.

According to the National Christmas Tree Association, there are approximately 30 million real Christmas trees sold in North America every year.