Varieties of Christmas Trees

Mary Ann Ryan
Adams County Master Gardener

It's time buy a Christmas tree. But what kind should you buy? Artificial, fresh cut or live? And what variety? This depends on the length of time you wish to keep the tree inside. If you're looking at more than three weeks to keep a tree inside, you should consider an artificial tree. If less than three weeks, a fresh cut tree is certainly an option; and if you keep a tree up for 10 days or less, you can consider a living tree. There are many varieties of trees you can choose when planning on a fresh or living tree.

Christmas trees can be broken down into three basic groupings: firs, spruce and pines. Firs and spruce needles are attached to twigs individually, while the pines have clusters of needles attached to the twigs. The following are commonly grown Christmas trees, but not a complete list of varieties.

The Frasier Fir is native to the high elevations of the southern Appalachian Mountains. It has easily adapted to our climate, if you're considering a living tree. It has excellent needle retention with wonderful fragrance. It has dark green foliage with silver on the underside of the needles, and the twigs are relatively firm for an easy to decorate tree.

Douglas Fir is a very popular Christmas tree. This tree is native to the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, and has also adapted well to our weather conditions. It has a natural pyramid shape, fragrant, with somewhat drooping branches. The needles are a medium green color about 1 - 1 " long. This tree has good needle retention and relatively easy to decorate. In the landscape, it serves as a great screen planting when mixed with other evergreen trees.

Balsam Fir is a long lasting, fragrant fir. This evergreen is native to northeastern US and Canada. It likes cold winter temperatures and cool summer temperatures. It has nice, dark green foliage and one of the common Christmas trees in the US. It has good needle retention and strong twigs for an easy to decorate tree. This tree resembles the Frasier fir in looks and endurance.

Concolor Fir has longer needles than the other common fir trees, getting up to 1 " in length. It has a good fragrance and needle retention. The blue-green foliage makes it an interesting and attractive color for a Christmas tree. It is native to the west coast, but has adapted to our environment quite well.

Colorado Blue Spruce is a nice shaped tree with good silvery-blue color. The needles are pointy, making it rather prickly to decorate, but it does have good needle retention if kept watered. These trees are symmetrical by nature, and have strong limbs for heavy ornaments. The blue spruce works well in the landscape as a screen planting.

White Spruce has short, stiff needles with a blunt tip, making them less prickly than the blue spruce. The branches are stiff as well, making it a good choice for heavy ornaments. Needle retention is good, probably better than other spruce trees. However, when the needles are crushed, they have an unpleasant odor.

Norway Spruce has a nice dark green color but poor needle retention. It is conical by nature, and open in appearance if not sheared heavily. It has good stiff branches, making it easy to decorate. If choosing this variety, be sure to keep it well watered in a cool room and do not keep it in the house for more than two weeks.

Scotch Pine is a common Christmas tree in the US. It was imported from Europe by the early European settlers. It has longer needles, about 1"-3" in length. The needles are in clusters and a medium green color. It has fairly good needle retention when it is kept watered. It also is a very easy tree to transplant if you are considering a living tree.

White Pine is a native evergreen. It has long, clustered needles and good needle retention. It is very soft to the touch and has flexible branches, making it a tree that cannot handle heavy ornaments. It has little fragrance, but nice blue green color.

When selecting a variety of tree, keep in mind where the tree will be displayed. If it is in a cooler room, you choices are greater because the needles will hold longer. If it is a warm room, it's best to choose a variety with excellent needle retention as the warmth will dry out the needles quickly.

Make good, common sense decisions when selecting your tree and you will enjoy a happy holiday season.

Mary Ann Ryan is the Penn State Master Gardener Coordinator from Adams County. Penn State in Adams County is located at 670 Old Harrisburg Road, Gettysburg, PA 17325, phone 334-6271 or 1-888-472-0261. Penn State is committed to affirmative action, equal opportunity, and the diversity of its workforce."

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