Choosing a tree
Live or artificial? The controversy is still alive and well. Do we encourage a renewable small business or do we save the trees? That choice is entirely up to you. There are practical pros and cons of course and I'll lay some down for you to ponder.
Live trees involve getting outside in the fresh air, a family trip to the country to select or cut your own or a quick stop at the local grocery store tree lot. Some tree farms go all out and offer hot chocolate, wreaths to match a fire pit to help with creating fond memories. They usually offer wrapping service but you'll need a vehicle of course and the paraphernalia to strap to the roof if need be. You also need to bring a bow saw. Sawing down a4" caliber trunk will break a sweat. But hey! It's all part of making memories! Fresh cut lasts longer and you have solid knowledge of how long ago it was cut. They smell so good too! Lots selling trees are a different story. It's difficult to tell how long these trees have been stored after being cut. We are all familiar with the banging the trunk on the ground to estimate how dry the tree is right? I've seen trees travelling on the backs of large flatbeds leaving New Brunswick in late September! It boggles the mind that they can last as long as they do! The other unknown is how evenly branched they are when some are pre wrapped in the netting for easy transportation. Uneven branch placement and their relative weakness can be a chalenge to decorate. Ornaments can't be too heavy so forget those styrofoam beaded crafty ornaments or thick glass balls. Needless to say, I've used pruners on any branches that didn't fit the overall shape. Just don't make the mistake that I did and prune AFTER it's decorated. I accidentally cut the light string! Thankfully it wasn't plugged in at the time. A close call for sure! Once you've gotten your tree home, here in the north, we usually leave it outside until we are ready to set up. When it's time, be sure to cut the trunk again just before you set the tree into its stand. Your stand should be able to hold a lot of water. Especially in the first 24 hours as the tree will suck up a lot. Check in a few hours after set p and top up that water. Also another lesson I learned was to ensure your water reservoir doesn't leak! I ended up with a bump in the hardwood flooring when I discovered my leak. Thankfully after drying the floor our with fans, it settled. You also have the needles to contend with. If you have carpeting, they have a nasty way of showing up in July stuck under your bare feet! Be sure to vacuum thoroughly and take advantage of those giant tree bags to haul her outside after the season is over. Most importantly, watch that water level and never let it get below the trunk! I once had a stubborn client who had to have live 25 foot trees every year. Cutting those down every year really went against my green philosophy. Then there was the impossible task of keeping it form drying out! That picture you see above? That's one of their trees in the first week of January before we took it down.
Aside from live trees, there are oodles of trees to choose from these days. There are the polyester branches that are notorious for shedding needles down the road. There are the newer realistic ones with plastic branches that simulate spruce. Some have sparkly frosting permanently attached, others are dotted with pinecones. Most are hinged now but pay attention to how they assemble! Forget the “paint by number” colour coded holes method (remember those?). Gone the way of the dinosaur, they did store more compactly, I'll give them that. But once those colour codes start to come off, you are left with having to measure branch lengths. I once had an ancient 15' tall "paint by number" tree to decorate which took far too long the first time around for that same reason. All I can say is get out some masking tape and write the codes and replace the fading stickers, which is what I did. You save some money and the landfill in the process. Hinged are much easier. If you can, look for metal hinges instead of plastic. Most will be riveted so repairs will be a challenge. I’ve been known to use plain heavy gauge wire to hold a branch in. Other times I’ve been lucky enough to find the right size bolt and nut for a more permanent solution. The best time to buy artificial is of course after Christmas sales. There are a few good sales to be had prior to Christmas as well. And yes I call them Christmas trees. It's what I was taught and I don't feel the need to change names now.
Trick: To recreate the real tree smell in the house, I will acquire fresh cut fir and pine branches and set them into a large vase with water and add some sparkly artificial stems of a coordinating theme and fill the vase inside with balls and whatever. I then set it on those decorative charger plates available in all your favourite seasonal colours from gold, silver or red. White would be fun too! I add a few matching or contrasting balls on the plate as well. The vase can be set on the floor or in a suitable sized table.
When choosing artificial should I chose prelit or string them myself? I'm a do it yourself at heart. My issues with prelit are that some feature irreplaceable LED bulbs. They will one day burn out. Then what? The wires on all prelit whether LED or incandescent will wear out from opening and clo sing the branches. Then you are stuck having to replace the light strings. Or if you don’t replace burnt lights IMMEDIATELY, the added stress on the other lights will burn them out prematurely until you reach critical mass and fry the entire string. Again you are stuck having to replace every bulb, or the entire light string. You can add a string over top and replace with a fresh one provided it is of the same wattage bulbs as the previous one and remove the old string later. NEVER mix LED with incandescent, check for CSA approval, UL listing. Personally, I do not enjoy being up to my armpits in a scratchy tree looking for lights, or muckng about restringing lights. At least when you are charging by the hour, it’s not cost justifiable. At home it’s a different story. In essence it’s apersonal choice and I’m just laying out the pros and cons so you can make an informed decision. I prefer putting my own lights on. Replacing bulbs before or after the season is easier. If a string gives me grief with half not working or are completely fried, I replace it, period. Commercially, time is always of the essence, otherwise, it’s a personal choice.
Although technology is growing in leaps and bounds regarding tree lighting what with dome LEDs that have a bit more sparkle. They've finally come out with LEDs that can be replaced individually too! The energy savings and low temperature are great for live trees, preventing premature drying out. Yet my heart still belongs to the clear white mini lights. They give off that special sparkle that I must have. I've yet to see affordable LED lights recreate that yet.
Trick: If you must replace a faulty prelit string, just add a string and follow the faulty one to where it connects from and to the previous and next string.. Later cut them off rather than try to remove those plastic clips.
Tip: Rather than buy individual replacement bulbs, it’s cheaper to buy a spare string set. This ensures the right wattage etc. and the right fit too. Who wants to fiddle with those teensy wires?
Artificial trees come tightly packed in their boxes. The branches need to be fluffed out to a realistic fullness. With proper fluffing, even a bargain tree can look spectacular. Starting from the bottom before you add each section, work your way from the centre outward. Untangle each branch of greenery and open to either a 45 degree or 95 degree angle outward. And continue all the way to the end where you leave at least one stem sticking straight out. DO NOT tighten the screws on the base at this time. This way you can stay in place and simply turn the tree until you come full circle and are ready to add the next section. I have found this process to be quite meditative, especially when it was 12' to 18'. We worked in pairs at opposite sides of the tree, chatting about life in general all along. I formed many bonds with staff during decorating time. Near the top the branches are set in a different way and it’s a matter of opening them up and out and straightening the tip. You shouldn’t be able to see through the tree. But that is a matter of preference as some prefer to spread branches on a flat plane which more accurately resembles the real deal. Again I cannot stress that it's a personal choice.