For families looking for safe ways to participate in traditional holiday activities, spending time outdoors picking a Christmas tree might just fit the bill. Cornell University experts, Brian Eshenaur and Daniel Weitoish, offer insight on how Christmas tree picking may look different during the pandemic, what tree varieties might work best in your home and how to spruce up your holidays with a live, outdoor tree.
Media note: A video of Daniel Weitoish offering tips for picking the perfect Christmas tree can be viewed here: https://youtu.be/1Eh73FLX3hg and downloaded here: https://cornell.app.box.com/v/WeitoishChristmasTrees.
Brian Eshenaur is a plant pathologist and a senior extension associate with the New York State Integrated Pest Management program. Eshenaur works closely with Christmas tree growers across New York.
“Christmas tree growers have been preparing for months to make the experience at their farm a safe one for all. You may notice that your favorite Christmas tree farm has re-designed certain areas to minimize crowding. To be prepared for any changes, it’s best to view the webpage of your favorite tree farm before you head out.
“The 2020 Christmas tree growing season was very good and the trees show it! Summer rains that were evenly spaced and moderate temperatures in the fall has helped the trees to look their best right now. Although they’re looking great, there’s a shortage of taller trees in some regions so if you plan to get a tree that towers above the rest you may want to start your tree shopping earlier than normal.
“This year, more than ever it makes sense to support your local Christmas tree grower. Locally grown trees help the local farmers and the dollars spent there support local economies. Also buying local helps reduce the possible transmission of pests into a new area. Although most pests are dormant at this time of year there’s a new pest, the spotted lanternfly, which has shown up in some larger Christmas tree growing regions of the country. Although they don’t feed on Christmas trees they could hitchhike on a tree grown from outside our region and once here affect local agriculture. So, if you can, play it safe and buy local.
“When you’re out, take time to choose the tree that’s right for you and your family. The fir trees like Fraser, Balsam and Concolor have great needle retention and stiff branches that make a perfect place to display ornaments all the way to the tip. Spruces have a classic upright natural shape and although their needles may be prickly their branches are also excellent for ornaments. Douglas-fir needles are blue-green and feel soft and feathery.”
Daniel Weitoish is an arborist at Cornell Botanic Gardens.
“CDC advice on Christmas gatherings suggest holding events outdoors. This could make for a great opportunity to get a live tree and either plant it directly or keep it in its pot until outdoor events are over. Roots can still freeze in a pot, so be sure to give them a little protection by digging a shallow hole and/or covering the rootball with mulch or soil.
“Part of the reason Christmas trees require so much water is that indoor heat and ventilation wick away moisture from the foliage. COVID mitigation recommendations often include ventilating indoor spaces, which will require increased water need. Keeping a cut tree outdoors for the holidays will reduce the need for watering.
“Don't forget to make an extra cut at the base of your Christmas tree before bringing it indoors. Removing 1/2"-1" of wood from the base will allow the tree to better absorb water, mitigating needle loss and allowing for a longer indoor season.
“Since many guests may be wearing masks this year, consider choosing a tree based on fragrance. The Balsam fir is widely regarded as the most fragrant Christmas tree species.”
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