Jackie Bantle, Saskatchewan Perennial Society
Using greenery to decorate inside homes around the winter solstice (December 21st) goes back to ancient Greek and Egyptian times. In many countries throughout time, evergreen plant decorations were used to ward off witches, evil spirits and even illness during winter solstice. Germany is credited with originating the Christmas Tree as we know it today when 16th century Christians brought trees into their homes at Christmas time to decorate. Martin Luther, the 16th century Protestant reformer, is the first recorded person to place lighted candles on a Christmas Tree: he said that it reminded him of the twinkling stars above a forest of evergreen trees.
When I was young, most Christmas trees were cut from wild forests in northern Saskatchewan or British Columbia.
Nowadays, retail fresh Christmas trees are grown on Christmas tree farms. These trees may be grown locally or shipped from as far away as Quebec or the northern States. Locally grown trees include: White (Black Hills) Spruce, Blue Spruce, Balsam Fir and Scots Pine.
White spruce trees have short (2cm), stiff needles that are dark green in color and easily roll between your fingers. Blue spruce needles have a bluish-green color. Spruce tree branches are straight and stiff and their fragrance can be intense when they are first set up.
Balsam fir trees have flat, short, soft needles that are glossy green in color. The soft needles and branches as well as the pleasant, long-lasting fragrance make the Balsam fir one of the most favorite trees at Christmas.
Scots pine tree needles are long (6cm), sharp and slightly twisted. Scots pine are the least fragrant of the four trees mentioned so far. The long needles of the Scots pine tree make the tree look lush and green. Scots pine trees grown in Saskatchewan tend to have a yellowish-green hue in fall and are sometimes spray painted to hide the yellowish needles.
Fraser firs are imported from eastern Canada and available at most tree lots on the Prairies. Fraser firs are known for their ability to hold their needles longer than other tree types. Fraser firs have soft needles with silvery-grey underside, strong but limber branches and mild fragrance. Douglas fir trees are shipped from BC. The needles are soft and have a lemony scent. The Douglas fir is usually narrower and less dense than the Fraser fir.
When choosing your Christmas tree, look for a tree that has healthy, green needles that are well attached to the tree. The more branches that are emerging from the stem, the denser the tree will be.
If you are not putting up your tree immediately, store your tree in a cool/cold shady location; do not let the tree thaw.
Just prior to putting your tree in the stand, saw 2.5cm off the base of the tree trunk, cutting the trunk at a slight angle. After putting the tree in its stand, fill the stand with boiling hot water. The boiling hot water will help the sap to start moving through the tree as it thaws. Do NOT put any sugar or other additives in the water. Never allow your Christmas tree to dry out. In the first few days, the tree will ‘drink’ a lot of water. Depending on how big your water reservoir is, you may have to fill the reservoir several times each day. As the tree gets older, it will use less water.
Avoid setting your tree near a heat register. Never leave your tree unattended with the lights on.
If you are planning to cut your own Christmas tree from the forest, remember that only one tree can be cut per family.
Saskatchewan residents are permitted to cut trees growing ONLY on Crown land or provincial forests, NOT on private land. The tree can be no larger than 12’ high and must not be cut from an area of renewal (i.e. a newly planted forest).
Minimize the damage to the surrounding plant and wildlife in the area. Perhaps a better idea is to support your local tree grower and visit one of the local farms that allow people to come out and cut their own Christmas tree. Check out the Prairie Christmas Tree Growers Association website for information on local Prairie Christmas tree growers. (www.prairiechristmastrees.org)
This column is provided courtesy of the Saskatchewan Perennial Society (SPS; firstname.lastname@example.org ). Check our website (www.saskperennial.ca) or Facebook page (www.facebook.com/saskperennial) for a list of upcoming gardening events.