If Christmas to you is all about celebrating faith and savoring experiences with family and friends, then let the festivities begin with the centerpiece of most holiday gatherings: the Christmas tree … the lordly evergreen … the old “O Tannenbaum” … the Noble Fir, the Scotch pine, the spruce and the cedar.
Whether your family is young and you are wanting to start a tradition, or is seasoned and you’re hoping to recapture the smells and memories of Christmases past, traveling over the river and through the woods to a nearby Christmas tree farm is a great way to start the season, and Indiana has some 200 tree farms you can visit!
“There’s just something magical about seeing that big, beautiful tree out in the wild before bringing it home,” said Stacey Holton, marketing director at Tipmont REMC. “I’m a sucker for traditions, and we like to make a whole day of the affair.”
She and husband Travis have started the holiday season with a tree farm visit ever since they were married in 2008. This will be the third Christmas they’ll be joined by their now 2-year-old son, Max. As soon as they get the tree home, she said they crank up the Christmas carols as they string lights and decorate. “Then, we sit in the dark enjoying the glowing lights of the newly decorated tree and a fire in the fireplace,” she added.
A young child riding on dad’s shoulders, little mittened hands clinging tightly to mom’s … these are the memories tree farms provide as you wander the lanes among the stands of trees under an open sky. And if the snow flies? Even better! Most farms offer hot chocolate and snacks and maybe even a firepit to stay warm and cozy as you wait for your fresh pick to be shaken clean of dropped needles, netted and tied to the roof of your vehicle. Some farms also offer a gift shop and a chance to meet Santa and even his reindeer.
During the COVID-crimped Christmas of last year, tree growers noted a silver lining: increased sales and visits to tree farms nationwide over previous years. With the pandemic protocols and COVID’s health concerns still lingering, that may mean another good year for real tree sales as folks look to get outdoors and find the simple things that really matter.
“Clearly, the thought process is leaning toward experience, toward making the holiday a bright part of the year,” said Marsha Gray, executive director of the National Christmas Tree Growers promotion board. “Consumers tend to turn toward things that make them feel good and happy.”
“We hope to continue this tradition yearly, especially as Max gets older and we can explain to him the importance of supporting local businesses,” Holton added. “When we have family in town over the Thanksgiving weekend, we even include them in the tradition. My brothers like to joke that I go to the farms to pick the tree so I can be sure I’m choosing the biggest one they have. They’re probably not wrong!”
If you are planning your first — or your “Nth” annual — outing to a tree farm this year, Indiana Connection has gathered some tips from the National Christmas Tree Growers Association and from the Indiana Christmas Tree Growers Association to help you bring home a tree you’ll always remember. Be sure to visit the Indiana Christmas Tree Grower’s website to find growers near you. And while you’re at a tree farm, ask about the 2021 “Trees for Troops” that provides real Indiana Christmas trees and other donated support for families in the military.
What to expect at a choose & cut farm
- Plan ahead — Before heading out, measure from the floor to ceiling and the horizontal space where the tree is going. Tree size is sometimes hard to judge in the open field. Measure the height of the tree stand and topper, too.
- Be prepared for a day in the country — Wear comfortable shoes and old clothes. Bring rain gear if the weather is threatening. The “cutter downers” and the “loader uppers” should also have gloves.
- Equipment to bring — Saws are usually provided by the farm operator, but call ahead. Bringing your tape measure might also be handy. Be careful carrying the saw.
- Pricing — Some farms measure and price trees individually, others sell them by the foot. Ask about the pricing policy before heading out in the field.
- Tree size — Select the tree that fits your space. Check the trunk to be sure it’s sufficiently straight (pine will usually have at least some crook). Also check that the tree has a sufficiently long stump to accommodate your stand.
- Needles — In the fall, all conifers shed some of their oldest needles. This is normal as the tree prepares itself for winter. Most tree farms provide shaking or blowing services so that you will depart with a perfectly clean tree.
- Cutting your tree — Cutting the tree is easiest as a two-person project. The “cutter downer” usually lies on the ground while the helper pulls lightly on the tree opposite the side of the cut to ensure that the saw does not bind in the cut.
- Transportation — Bring the tree to the processing area where it will be cleaned and netted. Netting makes transporting and handling the tree much easier. Most farms will have helpers to assist with cutting and loading.
How to safely decorate your tree
Whether your real tree comes straight from a tree farm or from a retail lot, putting it in water as soon as you get it home and keeping it watered throughout the holidays is key to a fresher, safer tree.
- If your tree has been precut, make a fresh cut at least a half inch up on the trunk before placing it in water.
- Display the tree indoors away from heat sources that may cause it to dry more quickly. At least close and cover any nearby heat register. Avoid placing your tree near a wood-burning fireplace.
- Display your tree in a sturdy stand with adequate water capacity – at least 1 quart for each inch of trunk diameter.
- Check the water at least once daily and replenish as needed to maintain the water level above the base of the tree trunk. Trees are very thirsty. If the water level drops below the fresh cut on the base of the tree, a new seal will form and the tree will not be able to take up any more water.
- Only use lights that produce low heat. Check all electric lights and connections before decorating your tree. Don’t use lights with worn or frayed cords. Don’t overload electrical circuits.
- Turn off all lights and decorationsbefore going to bed and any time you leave your home.
Source: Indiana Christmas Tree Growers Association