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Which Christmas Tree is right for you?

Christmas Trees in Canada: A Festive Tradition and Sustainable Industry

Christmas in Canada is a magical time filled with traditions, joy, and festive decorations. Among the most iconic symbols of the season is the Christmas tree. The tradition of decorating evergreen trees during the holiday season has deep roots, and it holds a special place in the hearts of many Canadians.

The practice of decorating trees during the winter season has ancient origins, with various cultures incorporating evergreen plants into their celebrations. In Canada, the tradition of the Christmas tree can be traced back to the 18th century. European settlers brought the custom with them, and it gradually became a cherished part of Canadian holiday festivities. In the early days, families often ventured into the woods to cut down their own trees.

Types of Christmas Trees in Canada

Before diving into the selection process, it's essential to understand the different types of Christmas trees available. Each type has unique characteristics that can influence the overall look, scent, and longevity of the tree. Here are some popular varieties and a few tree selection choices:

  • Balsam Fir - The native balsam fir tree species is often considered the ‘real’ Christmas tree. Known for it's pleasant, distinct, and long lasting fragrance, the balsam fir is a favourite among Canadians. Its dark green needles and symmetrical shape make it an excellent choice for ornamentation. Balsam fir has a wonderful green colour and smooth needles which are not prickly. Decorating with ornaments is easy, but it isn't always suitable for heavy ornaments as the small branches are not as stiff as white spruce or pine. There are several other fir trees such as Fraser, Caanan, and Korean, and even the Douglas fir (which is not actually a fir at all).
  • Spruces - there are a variety of spruce trees, including Colorado blue spruce, white spruce, and black hills spruce. All spruce trees have prickly, short needles with an incredible ability to hold ornaments. Pets may not come close to these type of Christmas trees due to the prickliness. The colour of needles range from white-blue to blue, and dark green. Resilient and adaptable, the white spruce boastsa conical shape. It's a great option for those seeking a hardy and attractive tree.
  • Pines - All pine trees have needles in bundles of two, three, and five. In Alberta, Lodgepole and Scots pine are the most common pine chosen for Christmas trees. Pine trees do not have as dense needles as fir and spruce, but they are also excellent choices due to their aroma and longer needles. The stiffness of branches is excellent for holding ornaments. With its sturdy branches and long needles, the Scotch Pine is a traditional favourite. It has a robust structure, making it suitable for hanging various ornaments.

Live vs Plastic Tree

Having plastic Christmas trees is quite common. For many people there is an ethical dilemma about cutting down living 10-year old trees for only a few weeks and then disposing of them the local landfill. Please keep in mind that natural Christmas trees are biodegradable, renewable (can be replanted), and that they absorb CO2 and produce oxygen for us. Living trees also can provide more spiritually and emotionally.

On the other hand, choosing plastic Christmas trees, created using fossil fuels, has it's own challenges, including the materials the trees are made from (mostly from PVC films) and the production process which involves high emissions of greenhouse gasses. Many are made in factories outside of Canada, which adds to additional greenhouse gas emissions from shipping. Plastic trees are not biodegradable, not renewable, create waste and pollution, and, according to USA Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), pose potential health issues related to PCV lead contamination.

Choosing the Right Size

Selecting the right size Christmas tree is essential for ensuring that it fits well in your living space, and can accommodate your decorations. Consider the following factors when choosing a tree:

  • Room Height: Measure the height of your room before heading out to purchase a tree. It's recommended to leave enough space between the top of the tree and the ceiling to accommodate a tree topper.
  • Tree Stand Height: Take into account the height of the tree stand. Ensure that the tree, when placed in the stand, will fit comfortably within your designated space.
  • Width: Consider the width of the tree in relation to the available floor space. A full, bushy tree may require more room, while a slender tree can be a great option for tighter spaces.
  • Decorations: Think about the size and weight of your ornaments. A sturdier, fuller tree may be better suited for heavier decorations, while a more slender tree may benefit from lighter ornaments.

Choose Locally Grown Trees

If possible, opt for a Christmas tree that has been grown locally. Locally sourced trees have a smaller carbon footprint as they don't need to be transported over long distances. In Alberta, there are very few growers that offer u-cut Christmas trees. The largest Christmas tree grower in Alberta, is Fir Ever Green Tree Farm. This u-cut Christmas tree farm gives an incredible opportunity to talk with the grower and clients. Many do not know that it takes around 8-12 years to grow a Christmas tree. It is hard work, and production involves planting, watering, weed control, pest control, shearing/shaping, and making the trees perfect for the consumer.

Another option, aside from going to going to a u-cut Christmas tree farm, is to get a tree from Crown Land. To do this, you will need obtain a permit from an Alberta Government Forestry Office, in order to cut a tree.

Whatever you decide, either u-cut or from public lands, make sure that you are dressed appropriately for the cold weather, bring tree-cutting tools, that you have room in your vehicle for the tree, and stay safe by letting your friends or family know the location you are going to.

Over two million trees are harvested as Christmas trees across Canada, each year. There are very few Christmas tree growers in Alberta and the prairie provinces. The western province of British Columbia, and the states of Oregon, and Washington are the major suppliers of Christmas trees to Western Canada.

How to Test Freshness

The freshness of a Christmas tree is crucial for its longevity and appearance throughout the holiday season. Here are some tips to ensure you choose a fresh and vibrant tree:

  • Needle Flexibility: Gently run your hand along the branches to test the flexibility of the needles. Fresh needles should be pliable and not break easily.
  • Colour: Look for a tree with vibrant, healthy colour. Avoid trees with dull or browning needles, as this may indicate dryness and reduced freshness.
  • Fragrance: A fresh Christmas tree should emit a strong, pleasant fragrance. Give the tree a gentle shake, and if it releases a burst of scent it's likely fresh.
  • Moisture Content: Check the trunk for resin. A sticky, moist trunk is a sign of a well-hydrated tree. Dry, cracked bark may indicate a lack of moisture.
  • Needle Retention: Gently grab a branch and pull your hand toward you. If the tree is fresh, only a few needles should come off in your hand. Excessive needle shedding suggests a less fresh tree.

Fire Safety

Another important consideration when having a real Christmas tree in the house is fire safety. It’s a wonderful family tradition, but please be sure to follow the instructions for keeping the tree watered so that it doesn’t dry out and present a fire hazard. Remember, real Christmas trees are 100 per cent reusable and recyclable. Once the needles fall off you can chip it or use it in a woodstove or fire pit, if weather permits. You can also contact your municipality for details on where and how to recycle your tree at the end of the season.

Some key Christmas Tree Tips

Here are a few tips for choosing and caring for a Christmas tree:

  • Measure the height and width of the area where the tree will be displayed. Trees that are two meters tall will be approximately 1.6 metres wide (7' tall will be 5' 6" wide) at the bottom.
  • Some species have more open foliage, stiffer branches or longer needles so you may want to have an idea of your decorating theme before you pick your tree.
  • The Prairie Christmas Tree Growers Association webpage provides lots of information about the characteristics of different species of trees that are sold as Christmas trees.
  • Look for a retail lot that keeps its Christmas trees fresh and in a protected area.
  • Store the tree in a cool place, out of the wind and rain, until it is ready to be brought indoors.
  • Place a tree moving bag under your tree, ready to be drawn up around the tree, to make disposal easier.
  • Ensure your tree stand is large enough to hold four liters (one gallon) of water, as well as the trunk of the tree.
  • When bringing the tree indoors, cut 1 to 2 cm (½ to ¾ of an inch) off the tree stump before placing it in water. The cut must be no more than four hours old, otherwise sap will seal the cut and prevent the water from rising, thus drying out the tree.
  • Avoid putting Christmas trees near direct heating sources, such as fireplace, furnace vents, or sunny windows
  • The first water fill should be with very warm water enabling the sap to flow readily. As the tree thaws, water will be drawn upwards replenishing the moisture to the extremities. No additives are required.
  • Top up the water twice daily so the base of the tree never dries out. Your tree will drink several liters of water every day for the first week or two.
  • After the holidays, wrap the entire tree in a moving bag, and bring everything outside, including the stand, which can be easily removed once the tree is outdoors and on its side.

Christmas trees hold a special place in the hearts of Canadians, symbolizing the festive spirit and bringing families together. From their historical roots to the economic impact of the industry and the growing emphasis on sustainability, the journey of Christmas trees in Canada is a fascinating and evolving story. As Canadians continue to celebrate the holiday season, the tradition of selecting and decorating a Christmas tree remains a cherished and enduring part of their winter festivities.

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