A visit to a Christmas tree farm was a new experience for me. In fact, I was amazed when I called in on Saturday morning. The whole place was buzzing. Cars, trailers, families, staff, a tree wrapping machine – even a sausage sizzle. It was like a single focus gala day. This was a set-up where you chose your own tree and it was cut to order on the spot.
My interest had been whetted when I saw a vehicle outside the supermarket with a wrapped tree tied to the roof. Clearly this was not one purchased from a trailer beside the road. Christmas trees were already on my mind because there is something about the disposable nature of them that was nagging at me and I had been gently looking for alternative ideas. Ours is a household where we have a tree every year – but not a tinsel one in sight – but we have never paid money for one. I can remember our second daughter once wistfully suggesting that maybe we could buy a perfectly shaped specimen but the DIY ethos rules supreme and this was dismissed on the spot. Of course we live in the country with self-gathered options available. It is different for urban dwellers.
I was so impressed by this Christmas tree farm. Our main local one is Cedar Lodge Nursery. Outside this period, they continue to produce and sell a range of interesting conifers which are not widely available on the market. With a proud tradition over the decades, they are one of the few remaining tree nurseries in this country to still offer a mail order service. But come December, it is all about pine trees for Christmas.
The use of Pinus radiata as the main Christmas tree is largely a New Zealand tradition. The Europeans and North Americans lean more to members of the abies and picea families – the spruces and the firs. These are much slower growing, even more so when you factor in naturally slower growth rates in less hospitable climates than we have here.
The clipped and shaped Pinus radiata that I was looking at last Saturday were three and a half years old. That will be from the time they were sown as seed and they had made handsome trees around the two metre mark. It will take longer than that to get the Northern hemisphere abies and picea Christmas trees to saleable size. In the hierarchy of splendid, long term trees, the abies and piceas rank much higher than the utility pine.
I hesitated over severing probably hundreds of thousands of them in their youth to hold the tinsel and a Christmas fairy for a few short weeks when in London in early December a decade ago. There were hundreds of Nordman firs (Abies of Nordmanniana) being sold cheaply in the Portobello Road street markets. Mark allayed my fears by pointing out that many of these will be thinnings from forestry plantings and the ability to sell them as Christmas trees is no doubt a welcome addition to income.
Our pine trees are grown as a crop, as are many other plants. Yes they are a disposable, consumer commodity. So are poinsettia and most pot chyrsanthemums. The trees are starting to die the moment they are cut off to your request but so are all cut flowers. It is not as if we are stripping out our forests. If you are worried about environmental issues, I am sure you can forgo the synthetic wrapping to hold the tree in a more compact form until you get it home.
Some suppliers offer a recycling service where you can return the poor dried out thing to be mulched. Or if you can find a suitable spot to hide it, it will break down naturally over time and feed the soils – saving on the fuel to run the powerful mulcher.
The advice on care for cut Christmas trees is that the critical issue is to re-cut the main stem of the tree when you get it home and plunge it immediately into a bucket of cold water. This fresh cut enables the plant to keep sucking up water which is what extends its life. Keep topping up the level every few days but the advice to seal the cut with boiling water, or to add sugar or aspirins is unnecessary and unlikely to add to the longevity of your tree. A tablespoon of bleach should stop the water from going stagnant.
Enjoy your pine Christmas tree with a clear conscience. Our quick turn-around Christmas trees will have made more contribution to the environment in their short lives than any more permanent tinsel tree.
First published in the Waikato Times and reprinted here with their permission.