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Buying your Christmas tree? How to make it last, and more!

Balsam fir
Photo: Gail Hudson, UMN Extension
Your goal is to pick out the perfect Christmas tree for your holiday celebration. But do you know exactly what you're buying? 

Which trees are native? What tree will retain its needles better? What's the best the way to keep my tree fresh throughout the holidays? 

Here's an encore presentation of a Y&G News article we ran last year (with a few updates) to bring you some facts about that all important purchase for your family:

What's the most popular tree in MN? 

There's not great data to share here. But in 2018, the University of Minnesota Forestry Club tracked their sales and they say there are two front runners--Fraser firs and balsam firs, but pines don't make the cut. 

Fraser firs make up almost half of those trees sold by the club. This tree originally came from the southern Appalachian region of Virginia and North Carolina, but it's also grown in Minnesota in certain situations. Some refer to it as the “southern balsam fir."  It has a bigger trunk and larger branches compared to other species.

Far fewer scotch and white pine trees are sold. They do not retain their needles as well. Only a few Colorado blue spruce and white spruce are typically purchased. 

I want to buy a native tree...

Here's an interesting question: if you want to buy a tree native to Minnesota, what kind would that be?  If it's a fir, go for a balsam fir, the only one native to our state.  Tree growers like it because it tends to be more disease free and has fewer insect problems.

Governor Mansion Christmas Tree 2018.
Photo: MN DNR
Did you know... this year's Christmas tree at the Governor's mansion is a balsam fir?

Foresters from Department of Natural Resources cut down the official state of Minnesota Christmas tree on December 2, 2019.  

It is about 40 years old, 25-feet tall and comes from the General C.C. Andrews State Forest in Pine County.  The DNR always chooses the tree from one of Minnesota's 59 State Forests.

The Norway Pine is the official state tree.

How many trees are harvested in MN every year?

According to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, half a million Christmas trees are harvested from private tree farms in Minnesota each holiday season.  The Christmas tree industry accounts for about $30 million in annual sales. The DNR reports that for every tree cut down, one to three trees are planted.  Those not sold are chipped for mulch.

In 2007, the National Christmas Tree Association estimated that more than 460 million Christmas trees were growing in the United States in 2007.

Why buy a real tree vs. a manufactured one? The Minnesota Christmas Tree Association launched a promotional campaign in 2008 saying live trees are renewable and sustainable because they:
  • Change carbon dioxide into oxygen
  • Are biodegradable and recyclable (into mulch)
  • Provide animal habitat
  • Prevent soil erosion 
  • And clean the air and soil.

What's a Canaan fir?
Canaan fir.
Photo: MN Christmas Tree Assoc.

The Canaan fir (Abies balsameas var. phanerolepis) is similar to a balsam. It's needles are about one inch in length and vary more in color, whereas the needles on a balsam are dark green and range from 1/2 inch to 1-1/2 inches.

It got its name, "Canaan" because the original trees came from the Canaan Valley in a small area of West Virginia.

How do I care for my Christmas tree?

If you want to keep your tree looking great for as long as possible, follow these tips from the Minnesota Christmas Tree Association: 
  1. Make a fresh cut. Before you bring the tree into your home and place it in a stand, re-cut the trunk at least one inch from the bottom just before putting it in the stand. Even if you just cut it on a choose and cut farm, this re-opens the tree stem so it can drink water.  Christmas trees are very thirsty!  It is not unusual for a tree to drink 2 gallons of water the first day it is the stand.
  2. Choose a spot away from heat sources. Heat sources like heat registers, space heaters, fireplaces, wood stove, televisions, computer monitors, etc. speed up evaporation and moisture loss of the tree.
  3. Water immediately. After making the fresh cut, place the tree in a large capacity stand with warm water. The stand you use should hold at least one gallon of fresh water.
  4. Don't add anything to the water! Research has shown that plain tap water is the best. Some commercial additives and home concoctions can actually decrease a tree's moisture retention and increase needle loss.
  5. Check water level daily.  Do not allow the water level to drop below the fresh cut or the stem will reseal and be unable to drink. 
Information from MyMinnesotaWoods, the MN DNR and the Minnesota Christmas Tree Association.

Author: Gail Hudson, Extension Horticulture Communication Specialist

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