It’s getting close to the holidays and you are debating-should we get a fresh tree this year? Help a Michigan tree farmer and take the plunge. A fresh tree that you cut yourself or purchase from a lot will make this holiday special. And buying a real tree actually is environmentally friendly. Trees are grown for this use or can be culled without harm from some forested areas and they are bio-degradable. Plastic and metal trees may last longer but they require lots of harmful chemicals, fossil fuel, and labor to produce and give nothing back to the earth.
A real tree can be a bit messy but the fun of finding the perfect tree is priceless. It’s an excellent way to have a family outing during the holidays that will be remembered for a long time. Start a new tradition this year and include a real tree in your holiday decorating.
What are the best evergreen species for Christmas trees?
Best is subjective of course, and usually best means the type of tree you have always had through the years. But if you haven’t had a fresh cut tree before you may want some tips. The most common Christmas tree species sold in Michigan are Balsam, Fraiser and Concolor firs, Douglas Fir, Scotch Pine, Blue Spruce, White spruce and White pine.
The firs all smell nice but have a more open shape and don’t take heavy ornaments that well. The needles aren’t scratchy but drop fairly quickly inside.
Scotch pines are dense and pleasing in shape, hold heavy ornaments and smell pretty good. They are prickly but hold their needles a long time inside.
Blue spruce and other spruces have good shapes, are dense and strong but their smell is not pleasant. They are also scratchy when decorating. Most spruce hold their needles a long time. They are generally more expensive than other trees.
White pines that have been pruned for a denser shape make pretty good Christmas trees but are more open than pines or spruce and don’t take heavy ornaments well. They smell nice, but not strongly. They retain needles well and are said to be the least allergenic of the Christmas tree species.
Want a low cost, fresh Christmas tree?
Most people don’t realize that many National Forests can be the source for Christmas trees. You’ll need to cut your own tree and transport it back to the car. Each National Forest will also have a fee for a “tree tag” which you’ll need to purchase before going out to hunt for the perfect tree. In Michigan tags cost $5. You can purchase up to 3 tags, each good for 1 tree. Trees are for personal use and cannot be sold.
We have one National Forest in the Lower Peninsula, the Huron –Manistee National Forest. It extends east from Hartwick Pines State Park to the Lake Huron shoreline. There is also the Hiawatha National Forest in the UP.
In Michigan you must have a parks pass to enter the park. You can buy a day passport for $5 or a weekly passport for $15. Seasonal passes can also be purchased. Go here for details on how to get a daily or seasonal pass. You can buy the passes on line but you must go to a park office to buy your Christmas tree tag. You could buy the daily pass there too. There are offices in Cadillac, Mio, Oscoda and Baldwin which are open M-F, 8 – 4:30; the office in Manistee is open M-F, 9 – 4.
Many public school 4th grade students were given a park pass. This year any 4th Grader who has a valid Every Kid in a Park pass or paper voucher will get one (1) FREE Christmas Tree permit. For more information on getting an Every Kid in a Park pass or voucher go here.
Remember most state and county parks do not allow tree cutting and you may get a hefty fine if you do so. You cannot cut trees from roadsides and medians. Also never cut trees on private property where you do not have permission to cut trees, whether the property is posted or not. This is theft and can be prosecuted as such.
Where to buy fresh Christmas trees
If you don’t want to cut your own tree from the National Forest but want a real Christmas tree here are two online sources to check.
For places selling pre-cut trees go here
For cut your own tree farms go here
Some charitable organizations sell trees as a fund raiser. Consider buying your tree where you can help the less fortunate.
Tips on cutting your own Christmas tree
Whether you head out to a National Forest or go to a tree farm you’ll need to be prepared when you go out to cut your own tree. Some farms transport you right to the area they want you to search for and cut the tree but in others you are allowed to roam around and find your own. Depending on the weather you may need a four wheel drive vehicle to get down access roads. Most National Forest roads are not plowed or sanded in winter if you are going there.
Some tree farms supply saws but its best to bring your own tools. A hand saw is the preferred cutting tool for a tree. It should be sharp. Since blades can break a back-up blade or saw is a good idea. Axes are hard to use when a tree has branches to the ground and more dangerous than a saw. Chain saws, if they are permitted, are heavy things to carry when trekking through the woods, and even heavier on the way back when you are carrying a tree. They are also dangerous tools to use when medical help can be a long hike back to a car and miles to emergency treatment.
You’ll want a tarp and ropes or bungee cords to tie the tree on the car or at least to wrap it for the back of a truck or van. A sled or wagon can be handy for transporting a large tree back to the car. And you may want a measuring tape to check to see if the tree will fit your car and home before you cut it. Trees look smaller out in a forest than they do in the living room.
Everyone in your tree cutting party should be dressed appropriately for a day in winter weather. Even if the weather is warm you’ll want heavy gloves for handling the tree. If you are going to a remote place your car should have blankets, food and water and other emergency supplies should something happen. Take your cell phone, but realize you may be out of a signal range. It’s a good idea to bring a compass or a GPS device. Carry something to start a fire should an emergency situation occur. Make sure to tell someone where you are going- at least the general area and when you expect to be back.
Be practical and careful in hunting for a tree. Don’t go so far into the forest that after cutting a tree and heading back it will be dark. Keep track of where you are going so you don’t get lost. Respect your exercise and strength abilities and those of the weakest member of your party. Stop before everyone is overly tired as this is when accidents happen. A tree can be very heavy even if you are dragging it. Don’t cross ice covered water unless the ice is 2 inches thick and even then use extreme caution and cross one person at a time.
Tips for picking that live tree and transporting it
Look for a full, symmetrical tree but realize that National Forest trees are not pruned into shape the way trees on commercial Christmas tree farms are pruned. Measure the tree to make sure you can get it through your doors, that it will stand upright in your room and won’t take more space than you have for it. If you are at a commercial tree farm you may have to pay for the tree by the foot so take that in consideration also.
Look at the tree trunk to make sure it’s straight and not oddly shaped. A tree may appear to be straight but the trunk may have an odd angle that will make inserting it in a stand and keeping it upright hard. Leave a long “stem” on the tree because you need to do a second cut across the stump before you put it in the stand. This makes sure the tree can take up water. And make your cut as straight across the trunk as possible.
After the tree is cut give it a few quick bounces on the ground to dislodge loose needles. You may want to check for bird nests. Some people think they are lucky and leave them in the tree. But bird nests may contain pests like lice or even mice and probably should be removed.
Make sure to attach your tree tag to the tree before you begin to transport it to the car if you are in a National Forest. The easiest way to carry the tree back to the car is to wrap it in a tarp. It protects the tree and makes it easier to handle. If the tree is to ride home on top of the car it should be wrapped in a tarp or blanket and the bottom of the tree should point to the front of the car. Secure it tightly with ropes or bungee cords.
Once you have the tree home store it outside in a cool, shady place in a bucket of water until you are ready to put it up inside. You’ll want it where dogs and cats can’t “anoint” it for you or where deer or other animals could nibble it. Trees store well outside in cool weather for several weeks. Live trees should not go up inside the house until 7-10 days before Christmas and should be removed within a few days after Christmas. Have a great holiday!
Here are some additional articles you may want to read.
How to identify pines, spruces and other evergreens
How to harvest and store nuts
Caring for a Norfolk Island Pine
You can read the authors weekly garden blog here.