It’s the most wonderful time of the year and that means it’s time to get a Christmas tree! There’s not much better than going out into the forest, cutting down a tree, securing it to the roof of your vehicle, and bringing it home while singing Christmas carols along the way. But while you might think you can go out and pick the perfect tree you spied while out ATVing last week, there are a few things you should know.
Preparation is Everything
Before you head out the door, saw in hand, it’s important to prepare for your adventure. Keep in mind these Christmas tree tips.
Time it Right
Whether you’re in the camp that says you shouldn’t put up Christmas decorations prior to Thanksgiving or not, there’s one thing that’s a must: timing your Christmas tree search. Pine trees of all types typically keep their needles intact and green for a max of three weeks after the tree has been cut. So, if you get a bit too eager and cut it down too soon, it’ll be turning brown by Christmas. Try and time it so you have three weeks until New Year’s so your tree will be green before, during, and just after Christmas.
Know the Rules for Forested Land
Rules for cutting down a Christmas tree? Yep. There can be a few guidelines you need to follow if you’re planning to cut a Christmas tree down on public land. If you’re cutting it down on private property, just make sure you have the owner’s permission and you’ll be good to go.
Cutting down a tree on public land, however, might be restricted. Check with your local forest service office for a map of areas where you’re permitted to cut down a tree. While you’re there, ask if you need a permit. If you do, you can obtain one on the spot. They’ll also be able to advise you as to the days and times that tree cutting is allowed.
The forest service ensures proper guidelines are in place so self-serve tree cutting ultimately benefits the environment by thinning out areas too crowded with trees. This process allows the remaining trees to thrive with access to more water, sunlight, and nutrients.
Consider Visiting a Christmas Tree Farm
Christmas tree farms can provide a fun, easily accessible spot for the whole family to go and pick a tree. Many of them also offer hot chocolate and candy canes in addition to fun activities while you’re there. If you’re planning to visit a tree lot, call ahead to find out the best time to go and when the activities will occur.
Before heading to a Christmas tree farm, you should also call to determine what tools to bring for cutting down your tree. Most farms allow only light saws when cutting down live trees. Chainsaws are rarely permitted in a tree farm setting. Some farms provide a cutting implement for you on-site so you don’t need to bring a saw at all. Others, still, have an employee walk with you to your tree of choice and cut it down for you.
Take the Right Gear
If you’ve spent any time in the backwoods, you know how important it is to have the right gear for the job at hand. Whether you’re going to a tree lot or public forest land, an absolute must is a good thick pair of work gloves. Work gloves are needed for anyone who plans to handle the tree in any way – this includes the smaller tree cutters in your family, as well. Even if they’re just holding the tree as you walk it back to the car, make sure they have good sturdy gloves on.
Goggles are also a good idea to protect your eyes from flying bits of wood and sawdust. Whenever a saw, ax, or chainsaw is in play, the person chopping and those standing by should have eye protection.
Make sure your vehicle can handle the drive. If you’re heading into snowy off-road territory, a 4-wheel drive vehicle with a good set of all-terrain or snow tires is a must. The last thing you want to do is get stuck in the forest with a Christmas tree and no way out.
Make sure you have plenty of rope or bungee cords to secure your tree to the top of your vehicle or to nestle it securely into the bed of your truck. If the tree has to go inside your vehicle, take an oversized tarp or blanket to put down first so all the sap and snow from the tree will stay off of your seats.
Finally, make sure you bring a tape measure along to measure the tree. Trust us, you’ll be glad you did.
So You’ve Found Your Christmas Tree…
Congrats on finding the perfect Christmas tree! Before you whip out that saw and yell, “Timber!” hit the pause button. Here are a few things to keep in mind.
Measuring The Tree
Don’t make a single but until you’ve measured the tree (remember that tape measure?). Make sure it will fit in the space in your home and on top of your car. Keep in mind that a room with an 8-foot ceiling will not support an 8-foot tree. Size down to account for any space required at the top of your tree for a topper and at the bottom of the tree for the tree stand. Plan on sizing down by one foot to provide enough clearance.
You’ll also want to measure the circumference of the tree to make sure you can get it through your doorways and hallways. The tree limbs will have some give, but you won’t want branches gouging your hallway paint job or damaging the wood on your doorjamb.
Check the Tree’s Vitality
Trees that are well-watered and fresh will last the longest. So, how do you check to see how full of life any given tree might be? First, check the needles at the ends of several branches. Are they dark green or dull and browning? Healthy trees should have dark, lush, green needles. Finding one or two brown needles is natural, but those should be the exception.
Second, do the needles come off easily if you shake the branch or run your hand against it? Healthy, well-watered trees should have needles that remain attached to their branches. Needles that come off easily or brittle branches are the sign of a tree that won’t last long once cut down.
Make Sure You Can Take the Tree
Before you start slicing, if you’re on public forest land, make sure you are in permitted cutting areas. You’ll also need to check the diameter of the tree trunk at its base since that is typically how cutting size is determined.
Another thing to check for in forested areas is whether there are any nests in the tree. If a forest woodland creature has already claimed your tree for its home, you should move on and find another.
Finally, if you’re on a tree lot, make sure the tree hasn’t been tagged by another family! Sometimes, tags can get pushed toward the inside of the tree. Make sure the tag has your name on it if you went ahead, or that there is no tag on it if you hadn’t reserved one ahead of time.
Cut the Tree Down!
Are you ready to cut your tree down? Try and cut it as close to the ground as possible. This makes it possible for the tree to come back from the stump you leave behind. As you start to cut, have an adult or a tall teen hold the tree and gently pull it in the opposite direction from where you’re cutting. This will keep your saw blade from sticking.
While it may be tempting to push the tree over when you’re almost through, avoid this at all costs. Keep cutting until you’ve sliced clean through. Pushing it over can cause the trunk to splinter.
Shake out your tree to knock off snow, loose debris, and bugs. When ready to tie it to the top of your vehicle, point the stump of the tree to the front of your car. This will prevent wind damage to the tree on the drive home. Be sure to tie it down tightly by threading rope or bungee cords through the branches to keep the trunk stable.
Take Your Tree Home
So you found your perfect tree, and you’ve finally brought it home. How do you keep it looking green and perky as long as possible? Here are a few tips for you.
Trim the Stump
Before you mount your tree into the tree holder, slice about an inch off the bottom. This will help the tree to draw water and will remove any scabbing that started during the drive home.
Water the Tree
As soon as you can, place the tree into a stand full of room temperature water. Refill the water daily or twice daily depending on how quickly the tree drinks it up. Always use room temperature water since cold water can shock the tree and cause it to die faster.
Check Its Placement
To keep the tree living its longest inside life, placement is key. Make sure it is far away from heating vents and other sources of heat such as radiators and fireplaces. Any direct heat will dry the tree out faster and potentially cause a fire hazard. If you can, try and place the tree near a window or a wall that faces the outside since these areas are cooler.