Christmas Tree Buying Guide

Christmas Tree Buying Guide

Real Tree vs. Artificial: Pros & Cons

Ah, the Adirondacks in winter!  The picturesque snow-covered landscape complete with rolling pastoral hills, trees whose limbs resemble diamonds against the morning sun when covered in a thin layer of ice, icicles that droop from our eves and sparkle in the glow of winter sunsets, the red feathers of the cardinal stark against the wintery landscape; indeed, for all its inconveniences, winter in the great Northeast is a nature-lover’s paradise!

These idyllic scenes easily conjured to mind by anyone who has spent a winter in the Adirondacks, and every bit worthy of a Currier & Ives engraving, remind us not only that the year has turned to its meridian, but that that most magical of all holidays comes now upon us.  Of course, we’re talking about Christmas!

For most families, the search for the perfect tree – that quintessential symbol that is central to all our holiday décor – begins as early as the day after Thanksgiving.  …For others – much to our chagrin – even earlier! …I mean, seriously folks, don’t be like the department stores.  At least wait ‘til one holiday is over before decorating for the next one, huh?  Jeesh!

…But I digress.

The choice over whether to buy a real tree or an artificial one confronts many of us every year.  And there are a lot of opinions weighing in on the issue.

Environmental Impacts

So, there’s a lot of talk these days about “going green.”  And if you’re consciousness is driven – as so many of us are these days – by the desire to reduce our “carbon footprint,” then the choice between real or artificial takes on new dimension.

On the one hand, cutting down a tree for what amounts to little more than a couple weeks enjoyment in our home might seem a little wasteful.  On the other hand, the manufacture of artificial trees involves use of a lot of chemicals whose impact on the environment is pretty well-established.

So it’s clear that there are environmental concerns affecting either choice.

Artificial trees are certainly economical and, these days are more realistic in their appearance than ever before.  There’s very little – apart from the fragrance, which can be overcome using essential oils and sprays – that artificial trees can’t reproduce about the experience of having an evergreen in your home.

Then again, it’s worth remembering that real trees are an abundantly renewable resource.  It’s true!  In fact, tree farms in the U.S. plant anywhere from one to three trees for every one that is harvested!

Experts point out as well that the hardiness of most of your conifer tree varieties enables them to be planted in areas that would otherwise lie fallow.  And, to add an even more eco-friendly benefit, tree farms also play a major role in keeping our air clean.  Did you know that merely an acre of Douglas fir trees can collectively absorb over 11,000 lbs. of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere in their lifetime?

There’s also the benefit of buying local.  Real trees have to be grown locally in order to make it to our homes while still fresh and green.  So even though there may be some trucking (e.g. fuel consumption, emissions, etc.) it is a much shorter trip and burns much less fuel than importing artificial trees from overseas!  Also, there is the added bonus of supporting a local business as opposed to buying a foreign import!


When looking at buying a real tree there is of course the concern about allergies.  Surprisingly, researchers have found that allergies most triggered by the presence of a tree in the home aren’t from the tree itself, but rather from mold that grows on its branches.

“Connecticut researchers have found that the mold count from a live Christmas tree rose to five times the normal level two weeks after the tree was brought indoors, and that can prove problematic for people with mold allergies,” says U.S. News and World Report.

An easy solution for combating this problem, suggest the experts, is to run an air purifier in the room where your tree is.

For others, the problem isn’t mold, but the fragrance that sets off their allergic response.  For those folks, sadly, avoiding a real tree may be the only solution.  But if you are going to overcome the problem of allergies by purchasing an artificial tree, there are some factors there too that you should take into account, such as storage.

When storing an artificial tree, be aware of the environment.  If you store your artificial tree in a damp, moldy basement, you may not be protecting yourself from those allergens.  Mold and mildew can – and often do – grow on artificial trees.  In addition, dust can settle and collect on your tree.  So to combat these problems, we recommend:

  • Storing your artificial tree in an air-tight, water-tight container (such as a plastic tote) or vacuum-sealed bag, and;
  • Store your tree in a cool, dry place (in other words, not the basement or attic).

Types of Real Trees

A little technical information here:  generally speaking there are two kinds of trees in the world; conifers (or softwoods), characterized by having needles and pine cones; and hardwoods, which are mostly deciduous, have no pine cones, and bear leaves instead of needles.

Christmas trees come from the former of these two groups; they are conifers.  The conifer family of tree species includes pine, spruces, firs, and cedars.  Of these, there are 16 or so varieties that lend their beauty and fragrance to our homes every year as Christmas trees.  Among them:

  • Arizona Cypress
  • Balsam Fir
  • Colorado Blue Spruce
  • Canaan Fir
  • Concolor Fir (White Fir)
  • Douglas Fir
  • Eastern Red Cedar
  • Eastern White Pine
  • Fraser Fir
  • Grand Fir
  • Leyland Cypress
  • Noble Fir
  • Norway Spruce
  • Scotch Pine
  • Virginia Pine
  • White Spruce

Discussed in the following section are the more popular choices and varieties more typically available in our area.

Balsam Fir

A popular choice in the North Country, the Balsam Fir is a medium-sized tree generally reaching 40-60 feet tall when fully mature, and usually 1-1 1/2 feet in diameter.  Needles generally grow in two rows along the sides of the branch, 3/4 – 1 1/2 inches long.  At maturity, the pinecones can reach 2 – 3 1/2 inches long.

Blue Spruce

An incredibly attractive and elegant tree, the Colorado Blue Spruce is characterized by its broad needles and light, blue-green color.  With the ability to reach 65 to a towering 115 feet at maturity with a diameter of 2 to 3 feet, Blue Spruces find themselves a popular landscaping feature all across the Northeast.  The needles of the Blue Spruce vary from 1 to 1 1/2 inches long, grow 4-sided on their branches and have a very sharp point.

White Fir

At maturity, Concolor (or White) Firs can reach a whopping 130-150 feet in height and vary from 3 to 4 feet in diameter.  Characterized by a somewhat “bushy” appearance (making them a popular choice in country-style decorating schemes), the White Fir can range in color from slightly blue-green to a lighter, “dull” green with age.  The bark on younger trees is thin, smooth, and gray while on older trees is thicker, reddish-brown to light gray and broken into irregular, flattened scales.  Needles vary from 1/2 to 1 1/2 inches long.

Douglas Fir

By far the most common choice in Christmas trees and popular for its fragrance (and economical price), the Douglas Fir can reach heights of 70 to a staggering 250 feet tall when fully mature. Its appearance is characterized by a “full” or “filled in” appearance with branches evenly occurring (as opposed to the more tiered and staggered look of other firs).  The bark is very thick, fluted, ridged, rough and dark brown. Needles are dark green or blue green, 1 to 1 1/2 inches long, soft to the touch and radiate out in all directions from the branch.

Eastern Redcedar

Another popular choice in country-style decorating, the Eastern Redcedar is characterized by its full and bushy appearance.  Its “branchlets” are compact with needles that generally grow in opposing pairs along the sides.  These trees are usually a dark, shiny green in color. Surprisingly despite its name, the Redcedar is not a true cedar, but rather belongs to the juniper family, which is evidenced upon closer inspection of the needles and the color of the cones before maturity.

White Pine

According to the National Christmas Tree Association, the Eastern White Pine has “proven to be one of the most important and most desirable species of North America.” A “truly magnificent tree,” its needles are soft, flexible and bluish-green to silver green in color, regularly arranged in bundles of five, and are between 2 1/2 to 5 inches long.  Popular in “Adirondack-style” decorating, this tree is an awesome choice because of its combined hardiness and beauty!

Fraser Fir

With its striking, multi-tiered and elegantly slim appearance, the Fraser Fir is popular in upscale, contemporary and country-style decorating.  Fraser Firs are uniformly shaped, reaching a maximum height of about 80 feet and a diameter of 1-1.5 feet at full maturity.  Needles are 1/2 to 1 inch long, have a broad circular base, and are usually dark green on the upper surface and lighter on the lower surface; its branches turned slightly upward.

Noble Fir

Some would say the Noble Fir is by far the most elegant tree in the world, truly worthy of its name.  Whether or not you subscribe to such lofty praise, one thing is certain, the Noble Fir is distinct.  Characterized by its beautiful symmetry and multi-tiered appearance, this tree can reach heights of up to 200 feet when fully mature.  Its needles are roughly 4-sided, over an inch long, blue green to silver in appearance. The needles are generally twisted upward.

Norway Spruce

A truly beautiful and distinctive tree, the Norwegian Spruce can reach 130 to 215 feet in height when fully mature.  Popular in all kinds of decorating styles and themes, this tree is characterized by dark green needles and drooping branchlets.  Needles are 4-sided, characteristically rectangular rather than flat, and 1/2 to an inch long.  This tree’s appearance is also made distinctive by the fact that its pinecones hang down, rather than growing erect on the stem.

Scotch Pine

Of the Scotch (or Scots) Pine, the National Christmas Tree Association says, “as a Christmas tree, it is known for its dark green foliage and stiff branches which are well suited for decorating with both light and heavy ornaments.”  Needles grow in bundles of two. They are variable in length, ranging from slightly over 1-inch for some varieties to nearly 3-inches for others. Its color can be likewise variable from bright green to dark green to bluish in some cases.  This tree is also a popular choice for country-style, homespun or Adirondack-style decorating.

For information on other tree varieties, or expanded information on the ones presented here, you can visit the National Christmas Tree Association’s website at

Area Tree Lots and Farms

Bob’s Trees

Located at 1227 West Galway Road in West Galway, Bob’s Trees is open November 15th to December 24th. Choose and cut your own Christmas tree and while you’re there, pick up wreaths, boughs, kissing balls and much, much more!  Call them today at (518) 882-9455 or visit them on the web at

Ellms’ Christmas Trees

Located at 468 Charlton Road in Ballston Spa, Ellms’ Christmas Trees is open from “Black Friday” to December 22nd and offers you the chance to choose and cut your own tree, or select from a wide variety of pre-cut trees.  They also offer a number of fun events for the whole family!  Call Ellms’ today at (518) 884-8168 or visit them on the web at

Goderie’s Tree Farm

Located at 338 County Highway 106 in Johnstown, Goderie’s Tree Farm is open 7 days a week from “Black Friday” to Christmas Eve.  They offer everything from fresh cut trees to wreaths, boughs and kissing balls.  For hours of operation or more information, call (518) 883-8196 or visit them on the web at

Selecting, Transporting and Caring for Your Tree

Room and Environmental Considerations

When choosing a tree it’s important, of course, to take into account the space you have available, so height and girth are important considerations.  Also, you don’t want to park your tree too close to any sources of heat – gas and electric heaters will dry out your tree, creating a fire hazard, and, well, the wisdom of not situating your tree near a fireplace should be obvious.


Okay, you’ve found your perfect tree!  YAY!  Now it’s time to get it home.  That’s when you realize, “Oh crap!”  You brought the Prius instead of the pickup!  That’s why decorators recommend measuring your vehicle’s storage space before you leave home on that tree-buying expedition.

“Common sense says you can’t fit a seven-foot tree into a four-foot trunk. It may be necessary to seek out an alternative vehicle if your car is not large enough to safely transport a larger tree,” says

Also, dress appropriately!  Let’s face it folks, we don’t live in California.  Winters here in the Northeast are cold! So dress warmly.  But you’ll also want to consider that you will be handling an “oversized, prickly object” so your wardrobe should be protective and utilitarian.  Thick gloves, long sleeves, good, sturdy work clothes, etc.  If you’re going to be cutting down your own tree, be sure to wear good, sturdy shoes or boots that you won’t mind being on your feet in for a while and that will provide good traction.

Most tree lots these days will bind-up your tree for you, but in case that is not a service the lot or tree farm provides, take plenty of robe and, if you plan on buying a larger tree, bright-colored flags (generally red or bright orange) to hang off the back.

Tree Maintenance and Care

According to About.Com, “keeping the tree alive starts with choosing one that hasn’t turned into firewood before it got off the lot. Your best bet is to buy a tree that is still growing and cut it yourself (or have someone cut it for you). If you are buying one pre-cut, make sure it is still alive and healthy.”

Once you’ve gotten your tree home, and before you affix the tree stand you will want to have a saw handy to give the base of the trunk a fresh cut.  Experts recommend taking at least between an inch to two inches off the bottom to help the tree soak up water.  Lubricate your saw blade with WD40 to avoid the blade sticking while cutting.  Wear gloves to avoid getting tree sap and pitch on your hands.

Tip: if you do get sap or pitch on your skin, rubbing cooking oil on the spot with a paper towel will remove it fairly effectively.

Once you’ve made a fresh new (and hopefully level) cut, drill a hole straight into the bottom of the trunk to receive the spike of the tree stand (if it has one), and three or four more holes around the outside of the trunk to help the tree absorb water.

When you’ve got your tree in the tree stand, add water and a package of tree nutrients (available from most tree farms & nurseries) to give your tree extra longevity.

Tip: According to Don Vandervort’s HomeTips.Com, “Adding aspirin to the tree’s water also increases the tree’s ability to absorb nutrients.”

Experts recommend checking water level three times a day for the first few days to see how fast your tree is absorbing water.  After the first few days, check the water level daily.  To avoid the base of your tree “sealing up” (making it harder for the tree to absorb water) keep your tree stand at least half full with water at all times.

A well-watered tree will remain fresh (meaning moist) and fragrant, and will ultimately be less of a fire hazard.

Tree Safety Tips

To sum up, in order for you to get the most out of the experience of having a real tree for the holidays while keeping your home and family safe, follow some basic safety guidelines.

  • Keep the tree watered – keep the water level in your tree stand at least half full to preserve the freshness of your tree.  A dry tree is a fire hazard!
  • Keep away from heat sources – heat will dry out a tree faster than anything, so keep your tree away from fireplaces and heating vents.  The cooler you keep your tree, the longer it will last!
  • Finally, and thanks again to About.Com, dispose of your tree before Valentine’s Day! – Seriously folks, how many people have we seen that keep their decorations up until the 4th of July?  If you’re like us, you find that all kinds of irritating!  If you’re not like us, then you’re one of them! HA!

But all kidding aside folks, trees do dry out and die even with the best of care.  Experts recommend disposing of your tree by no later than January 2nd.  Sure, most of us do still like to have it around come New Year’s Day but by January 2nd, face it folks, the holidays are over.  It’s time to let go and put the tree out on the curb (that is, if local waste management will pick it up for you).

A Note on Disposal

Check your local ordinances on tree disposal, and be prepared to haul the tree away yourself if your community does not provide disposal services for trees.  Experts do not recommend burning the tree in your back yard as a means of disposal – that presents its own set of hazards.

We hope you will find and enjoy the perfect tree to make your holidays truly special.  And Season’s Greetings folks, from all of us at Sacandaga Life!