December 2, 2010 at 8:47 a.m.
Thankfully, there are many families who still feel that a real tree is important for a traditional Christmas. I was curious to learn what trees are popular for the St. Croix Valley, so I went to a nearby tree farm for my answer.
They shared with me that the Balsam fir is one of the best sellers in the valley. It is the only Christmas tree native to Minnesota. The needles are flat, dark green, very fragrant, and the tree retains needles well.
The Fraser fir is fast becoming very popular, however it is often sold at a premium price and with the economy the way it is, some may choose another variety. It has soft, short needles and somewhat twisted branches that expose the deep bluish underside of the needles. This species has both excellent fragrance and needle retention.
In the 1950's the Red or Norway pine was the most popular tree in Minnesota and it is also our state tree. Its needles are in clusters of two and are longer than those of either Scotch or White Pine. Needle retention is similar to that of other pines.
White pine has gained favor in recent years because of its flexible soft needles, full appearance, excellent fragrance, and blue green color. It also holds its needles very well and is reported to cause fewer allergic reactions than do other Christmas tree varieties.
Scotch Pine is the most widely planted pine species for Christmas tree production in Minnesota. Needle retention is excellent and the fragrance is good. The foliage of some varieties of Scotch pine change in autumn from green to various shades of yellow-green, so an artificial colorant is often used to make it look greener. Scotch pines are trimmed to grow full which provide lots of outside surface to decorate, but not much room for ornaments in the interior of the tree.
Colorado Spruce hold their needles the best of all the spruce, but none of the spruce hold their needles well after being cut. The sharp, stiff blue-green needles can make the handling of the trees unpleasant but have the reputation of preventing cat attacks as well. The openness of the branch makes it excellent for decorations.
White spruce is similar in needle retention to Colorado Spruce. The tree has a nice cone form and a greener color than the Colorado, but some people object to the odor of the foliage. Black Hills Spruce is a variety of the White Spruce and sometimes is available as well. The needle of the Black Hills Spruce is shorter and darker green in color than the White Spruce.
If you purchase a pre-cut tree, check for its freshness. One way is to bend the needles and thump the base of the tree. A bent needle should spring back, and not break. Thumping the base of the tree against the ground should yield few fallen needles. If the tree fails either test, keep looking. If your tree is not brought inside right away, store it in an unheated building or protected area away from the sun or wind.