Shop ’til those fir needles don’t drop

Just a few of the many excellent Christmas trees now available.
Just a few of the many excellent Christmas trees now available.

Annual Christmas tree sales must be creeping ever closer to the ten million mark.

It is no longer unusual to find them on display for sale even before December arrives, which begs the question: Will they last until Twelfth Night? The answer to this depends on which type you buy and how you treat them.

I’m all for natural trees, but the artificial versions look so realistic these days, the price reflecting their longevity in years if you store them correctly. One I was examining last week, at a reduced price of £129, came with ready-attached lights and a remote control with eight different options, from combination to slow glow and chasing/waving.

Living trees planted in pots is another lasting option. The ideal purchase perhaps to mark a special family occasion so it can go between garden and house year on year. A lovely idea and it works but takes commitment.

Natural trees devoid of roots will last until January 5 but only if you treat them with TLC and exactly as you would a precious cut flower destined to stand in a vase. This might just demand a little extra one-off expenditure if you don’t already own a special container in which to stand the tree. It has to have a built-in reservoir at the base and adjustable clamp above.

Should you decide to buy a tree now while there’s such a wide choice, it needs to stand in water as soon as possible after returning home. My tree is carried into the cold greenhouse (near a window in the garage would do) where there is plenty of light. I then use a bushman saw to remove the bottom five centimetres of main stem and plunge the tree into a bucket of water. The new cut exposes cells of conductive tissue which are still capable of transporting water throughout the tree.

When transfer into the house occurs, make the switchover from a bucket to the clamp with reservoir, as quickly as possible. Even in a moderately warm room, some moisture will be lost through transpiration via the needles, a pint per day is not unusual, and some will vanish via evaporation. Keep the tree fully charged with water by topping up daily. This process works with all ready-cut types of tree.

The Caucasian fir (abies nordmanniana) commonly called a Nordman, will stand without water or needle loss for at least one month, because every modified leaf is attached by a ball and socket type joint. This is why a two-metre tall Nordman costs much more than a Norway spruce (Picea abies) of similar height. The spruce needles are attached by knuckle joints that are exposed to the air. When shrinkage occurs through lack of water they fall to ground.

It is estimated that a six foot spruce supports 20,000 needles. That represents lots of pain if you walk around with bare feet – not to mention the vacuuming.

Experience dictates that even a Nordman fir may lose a few needles without a water supply so as this is our favourite Christmas tree, we opt for a belt and braces approach!

Once the natural tree is in place it seems only right that a few living plants should accompany it and you can trust the horticultural trade to provide them. Poinsettia, cyclamen, solanum and several other traditional potted plants are lining the shop shelves awaiting our attention. Add bowls of bulbs to the list and we really are spoilt for choice.

Once you’ve got them home, remember to offer a well-lit position and temperature minimum of 12 Celsius. The majority are happiest at circa 15C, and one good dose of water rather than small amounts every day will keep them happy.