I hope you had a wonderful Holiday celebration this season. Although most of the snow that fell earlier this month has melted in the Hudson Valley region, there is still more than a foot of the white stuff at my house in Conesville! I just had to hire a snow plow person to clear my driveway so that some workers can get into my house this week. I also hope that the blanket of snow has insulated the foundation of my house and has kept my pipes from freezing.

Each year in the United States at least 35 million evergreen trees are harvested specifically for use as Christmas trees. To some people this may seem like an ecological disaster or a crime against nature, but in fact, the opposite is true. There are still many misguided people who think that cutting down any tree is a sin. The flip side of the harvest is that more than 100 million trees are planted each year as potential Christmas trees. The net result is actually a gain of more than 50 million evergreen trees that would never have been planted at all. In New York state alone there were more than 1,000 members of the New York State Christmas tree growers association at one time. These trees are a wonderful example of a renewable resource that provides many environmental benefits as it matures. Don’t feel guilty about cutting down or buying a pre-cut tree. It has been grown as a crop, just like a poinsettia, to delight your senses and help celebrate the Holiday season. But don’t steal or poach a tree off public or private land, as this is just theft and totally inappropriate for any celebration.

In upstate New York it requires at least 8 to 12 years to grow a decent Christmas tree depending upon the species and growing site conditions. During the growing period these trees provide oxygen, habitat for wildlife and preservation of open space as well as income for the rural landowners who raise them. The trees are a long term agricultural crop that benefits the local economy and sequesters significant amounts of carbon in the process.

We are lucky to have a wide variety of evergreen trees to choose from these days. I seem to recall that only white or Norway spruce trees were available when I was a kid growing up in Jersey City although at the time I did not know the difference between a spruce and a fir or a pine. I do recall that the needles were sharp pointed, short in length and they quickly dropped off the branches onto the tracks of my toy train set. This pretty much describes spruce trees but freshly cut ones will hold their needles for weeks indoors if kept well watered. Blue spruce trees are very beautiful with stiff branches that support lots of lights and ornaments but their pointed needles are not nice to touch. My friend Lester Gass grows some beautiful Blue spruce trees in Cornwallville.

Pine trees such as Scotch Pine or Austrian Pine, Red Pine or White Pine have the longest lasting needles. Like all pines, their needles are arranged in bundles of two to five that are joined at the base. Pines may be cut as early as August and will still retain their needles until after January or even later. Fir trees such as Douglas fir, white fir, Balsam fir, Fraser fir and noble fir are perhaps the most fragrant types with good needle retention and a wide range of needle lengths, and different shades of green.

Remember to keep your tree well-watered if you intend to enjoy it for a week or more after the holidays. A freshly cut tree may “drink” as much as a quart of water a day indoors. This insures that the tree will not present an undue fire hazard. After the holidays the tree can be recycled outdoors. If placed near a bird feeder, it will provide cover for songbirds that may otherwise be attacked by hawks or other birds of prey. You can even put peanut butter on the tree’s branches for a highly nutritious snack. If you don’t feed birds, you can cut off the branches and use them as mulch to cover your perennial beds. There are many good reasons to have a “real” Christmas tree, but saving money is not one of them! A friend of mine in New York City tells me that real Christmas trees cost about $15 a foot in Manhattan! That is less than what my daughter paid here in Florida.

Reach Bob Beyfuss at rlb14@cornell.edu.

Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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