For some, only a real Christmas tree will do

December 09, 2003|EMILY BURTON

HARRODSBURG - During the holidays our senses are assailed by a myriad of holiday cheer, like the spiced crunch of fresh-baked gingerbread men or the twinkle of Christmas lights in the snow.

But hand in hand with the scent of Mom's best meal is the smell of fresh cut evergreens. It has been bottled in colognes and burnt in candles, but seldom do the imitations meet the real thing - a real tree in the corner decked out in family ornaments.

In this decade, more than any other, Christmas tree decorators are choosing to dress fake trees over their live counterparts. While trees in a box might seem like an easy solution, with the right selection and care a cut tree can bring a fresh scent and authentic spirit into the home that plastic boughs can't top.

The first decorated Christmas tree is rumored to have appeared in the early 16th century Latvia. While walking in the woods one night, Martin Luther supposedly saw the stars shining through the pine boughs and wanted to replicate the scene for his family. He cut a small pine and decorated it with candles to mirror the night sky.


During the early 19th century, German immigrants brought the tradition of a decorated evergreen over with them. As the German holiday tradition became an American favorite, tree decorations progressed from candles and apples to popcorn chains, bubble lights and glass bulbs.

Today, there are about 30 million live trees sold annually in North America, reports the National Christmas Tree Association. While live trees are grown in all 50 states and Canada, about 80 percent of fake trees are imported from China.

A cut Christmas tree bought in Harrodsburg not only provided oxygen while alive, it also will benefit cancer patients after being harvested.

At Mr. Quick Food Mart on College Street, Mercer County Relay for Life is selling trees for $35, the proceeds of which will go to the American Cancer Society.

"All of these proceeds go to the American Cancer Society, and the money raised in Mercer County can be used in Mercer County if somebody calls (the society) and asked for assistance," said Sue Abrams, chairwoman of the county chapter of Relay for Life and manager of the food mart.

Abrams said the trees on the lot were cut within the week, and so were still fresh. In addition to checking for freshness, she pointed out some basic tips for tree shoppers this year.

"Basically, they need to look at the size of the tree they need with their ceilings, and also where they are buying their tree at. Some of these lots have trees that were shipped in on semis and are getting old. You want a tree that was cut recently. It keeps longer, the needles stay on, and it stays fresh longer."

In addition to the food mart, trees are being sold in several places by local Boy Scout troops, including in the parking lot beside the firehouse in Danville.

Advice on picking a good tree

Picking a good tree is much easier than some think. The varieties grown in Kentucky are usually easy to shape and hold their needles well, said James Fehr, a 12-year veteran of tree farming and co-owner of Yuletide Tree Farm and Nursery in Winchester. This includes white pine, Scotch pine and Douglas fir.

He said any pine would provide a good shape and hold its needles well during the season if it is fresh when bought and taken care of once in the house.

For a longer-lasting tree, Fehr said to check for freshness before buying by "feeling the needles. If they feel dry, then it's had it. They should feel fresh and moist."

"If you put it in a warm house, and don't put it in water, it won't last long," cautioned Fehr. He recommended adding a little sugar to the water and said other powdered water additives don't seem to hurt either.

If the tree has been cut for longer than a day, Fehr tells his customers to cut half of an inch off the bottom of the trunk to remove the dead tree cells and expose fresh wood.

"If you do that, the tree will drink up water just like through the roots," Fehr said.

After more than a decade of growing and harvesting Christmas trees, Fehr agrees that the atmosphere created by a live tree can't be matched by a plastic stand-in. And, he added, if that isn't reason enough to pick one out, think of the economic value and ecological services the real trees provided this year.

"For one thing, growing the live trees use up carbon dioxide. In other words, they're good for the environment," said Fehr. "Plastic trees are made overseas using petroleum products. It's kind of useless to use up a valuable resource, when you can grow live trees over and over and over again."

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