I've worked on a Christmas tree farm for about 25 years. I still help out and work at the farm from time to time.
This weekend is among the biggest Christmas tree weekends. Inevitably, people going out to get a tree for the first time have questions. I thought I'd try to answer some here for you.
1. Why get a u-cut?
Lot trees can be fine, but a u-cut becomes a family adventure. Kids love choosing their tree, even if it's raining and wet. And we always offered free hot chocolate at our farm, so warming up after harvesting the tree was easy.
2. How do I choose a Tree Farm?
Usually, a specific farm will become part of your tradition. Newspapers often have maps to different farms or you can go to the Puget Sound Christmas Tree Growers Association for a list. If you've never gone out before, choose one and see if there's something you like--if not, move on. You can call ahead on prices and ask about what kinds of trees they have and how big they are (and ask about hot chocolate!).
3. How much does it cost?
It varies. You can call ahead for pricing, but know that on some farms there are a few bargain trees usually offered. These are usually "Charlie Brown" trees, but if the kids want a separate tree for their play-area, they can be perfect!
4. Which trees smell the best?
Almost always, when someone asks this question they are seeking a "Grand Fir." Grands have the most powerful smell. BUT, Douglas-firs are less expensive. What do you do? Here's a cheat: You can get a Douglas fir and buy a bough of Grand fir--a couple of branches will give you the smell you're looking for. Also, ASK ahead of time, but sometimes someone leaves branches on the stump when they cut a Grand fir and the farm will let you cut those off and keep them for free.
5. What should I bring?
U-cuts have saws, but sometimes they get dull. If you have a good saw, grab it. If not, ask the tree farm staff to find you a sharp one. Chainsaws are a cop-out. It's hand-saws only (with few exceptions) and have the family share in the cutting (if they want). Also, if you have some cardboard, you might want to bring that. Washington is wet this time of year and the ground gets muddy. Laying that cardboard down can save you a big mess.
6. How do I know the needles won't fall off?
Needles have the most trouble when the tree is near a wood stove; that's brutal. But also give the tree a shake in the field. If needles shed like a dog's fur in summer, you've got the wrong tree. Just remember though, there's always needles under the tree--it's ok if the dead ones fall off.
7. What should I do with the tree when I get home?
If you have a saw, cut off an inch or so before you put it in the stand with water. This will allow the tree to soak it in. ALWAYS KEEP water in the stand.
8. Is there a right way to tie a tree to the top of a car?
Yes. The right way is to do it so it stays on. I leave details to you, but please note the stump should face your headlights. That way the wind won't break branches off your tree!
9. Does it matter when I go?
You can always find a good tree (your family and memories will make it good), but trees are like anything else. Your selection is better the earlier you go. Also, remember it gets dark early, so plan ahead and give your family at least an hour to select a tree. Picking trees in the dark is a sure way to get home and find you need to keep the tree in the corner to hide the bare spots.
10. Is there a way to cover bare spots on the tree?
People worry a lot about the top of the tree, yet usually a star or angel is hiding it. With bare spots, you can use tinsel, a present, a wall, OR... you can use my grandpa's old trick. He used to select a branch, spray paint it green to match the tree, then drill a hole in the trunk and jam it in.
It always seemed excessive to me, but he was happy with the result.
Find a tree farm on the Holiday Map
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