Picking The Perfect Tree

With Christmas less than three weeks away, it's time to start thinking about getting that family Christmas tree.

The Early Show Correspondent Melinda Murphy went to Rhode Island to obtain some tips from Big John Leyden's Christmas Tree Farm to pick out a perfect tree and maintain it through the holidays.

Since 1975, John Leyden has owned and run Big John's Christmas Tree Farm, a 94-acre farm in West Greenwich. Prior to selling Christmas trees full time, he taught vocational agriculture and won a "Teacher of the Year" award.

Leyden says he was 14 years old when he started selling Christmas trees with his father from their home in Coventry, R.I. He used the following tips to provide customers with a perfect holiday tree:

Choosing a Tree

Leyden says when picking a tree, the first thing to look for is freshness. And, it will definitely be fresh when buying from a farm.

If you are picking from a group of cut trees from a retail lot or a garden center, bend the branches to see if they snap. If they do, don't buy it.

Also bend 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.

Most Popular Holiday Trees

White Spruce: This is a traditional New England Christmas tree. It has a cone-shaped crown. When grown in the open, it develops a conical crown, which extends nearly to the ground -- making it very full on the bottom. It has a very strong aroma. The needle retention is better than other spruce species.

The Blue Spruce: This tree has a great shape, according to Leyden. It has colors ranging from green to a greenish-blue. The tree has very strong branches, which is great for people who have heavy Christmas ornaments. The only down side is that the tree has very pointy needles. Leyden suggests wearing gloves when decorating.

The Fraser Fir: Leyden says the Fraser Fir 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.

Cutting the Tree

Leyden says a tree is usually cut with a saw because of the low branches. (Never use an ax.) The cutter usually lies on the ground with the saw as the 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.

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

Maintaining the Tree

After you cut the tree, Leyden says 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.

Leyden puts on plastic wrapping with a manual baler and twine with a power baler. The baler and twine do not hurt the tree. Leyden says that it is so safe, that a person could go through 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. 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 up as much as 1 1/12 gallons 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). Leyden, however, recommends putting a preservative, like Prolong, in the water. The preservative kills the bacteria and keeps the tree fresher longer.

After the Holidays

Leyden says that when the holidays are over, you can recycle your tree. Most communities have their own chipping machines where you can take your tree and turn it into mulch. Then it can be taken back to the home for gardening.

Another way to recycle the trees is to take the trim off and put it in your yard. Leyden says to dress it up with popcorn or nuts to make it into a great birdfeeder. Eventually it will die. 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.

Leyden says you don't want to cut up your tree for firewood because it's too sappy. 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.
  • Balled and potted trees can be planted in the yard for added years of enjoyment.