Looking at other people's Christmas trees is fine and all, but the most important Christmas tree for many of us is the one we bring into our home.
Frank Gouin, retired head of the department of horticulture at the University of Maryland, College Park, knows his trees and how to keep them (and you) happy. Not only did he spend three decades advising the Maryland Christmas Tree Association, but he grows Christmas trees himself, on 6 acres at his southern Anne Arundel County farm. Here are tips for keeping your tree fresh.
Safety first It's best to avoid trees that, as a breed, dry out quickly and could become fire hazards. That should be the first consideration, Gouin stresses. The safest trees, he says, are Douglas firs ("even four weeks after being cut, they would not ignite"), Scotch pines and blue spruce. The worst, he says, are Fraser firs.
Buy early The main trick, Gouin insists, is to get a tree that's been cut down as recently as possible. A tree that's been leaning up against a stand somewhere for a couple of weeks, or lying on a flatbed, might not have much life left in it — especially since it might have been cut as long ago as October. "The most important thing is, get as fresh a tree as you possibly can," he says. "If you're going to go to a corner lot to buy a tree, you should go as soon as it opens up."
Cheap tricks Once you buy the tree, cut a couple inches off the bottom, to help clear sap and other bacteria that may have settled at the base and could prevent water from flowing up. At least at first, stick it in 100-degree water, to stimulate the flow of water up into the tree. When the tree is moved inside, repeat the process. And put some Floralife crystals (the stuff florists suggest for cut flowers) into the water.
Stay cool While it's outside, shade is important. "Keep it out of the sunlight completely," he says. "If it gets to be a hot day, spray it with water. That will help cool it down." When moved inside, "keep it away from radiator vents, places where it will get intense heat. Then it won't dry out very fast."
Cutting your own
Of course, if you want a really fresh tree, there's no substitute for going out and cutting it down yourself. Baltimore is ringed with Christmas tree farms; here are just a few. Be sure to call ahead for directions, hours, pricing details and whether you need to bring your own saw.
Anne Arundel County: Greenstreet Gardens, 391 West Bay Front Road, Lothian (410-867-9500); Modlin's Christmas Tree Farm, 5910 Little Road, Lothian (410-843-1620).
Baltimore County: Feezer's Farm, 3700 Wards Chapel Road, Marriottsville (410-461-5654); Mount Carmel Tree Farm, 2105 Mount Carmel Road, Parkton (443-491-3323).
Carroll County: Gaver Farm, 5501 Detrick Road, Mt. Airy (301-865-3515); Showvaker's Quality Evergreens, 2020 Garrett Road, Manchester (410-374-1499).
Harford County: Applewood Farm, 4435 Prospect Road, Whiteford (410-836-1140); Jarrettsville Nurseries, 1000 Holy Cross Road, Jarrettsville (410-452-8677).
Howard County: Clark's Elioak Farm, 10500 Clarksville Pike, Ellicott City (410-730-4049); Triadelphia Lake View Farm, 15155 Triadelphia Mill Road, Glenelg (410-489-4460).