Phyllis Both color for BNR

Phyllis Both

“I never thought it was a bad little tree. … Maybe it just needs a little love.” — Linus

There are many types and species of Christmas trees grown in the United States. People see the more common trees in tree lots across the country, but did you know that Deodara cedar with short bluish needles is used in some parts of the country? The wood from this tree was also used in ancient Egypt to build the coffins for the mummies.

Cedar smells wonderful indoors. Another cedar you may be more familiar with is the eastern red cedar; it’s a tree used in the south. However, the most sought-after tree in the southeast U.S. is the cypress. It is a better wood to use for people who have allergies to fir and pine.

The trees used in the Midwest can include:

  • Balsam fir: Balsam has long-lasting needles that are not prickly. It is named for the balsam or resin found on the bark. Resin is used to make microscope slides and was used to treat wounds in the Civil War.
  • Douglas fir: Douglas fir has a good fragrance and holds its color. David Douglas studied this tree in the 1800s and claims that it can live for 1,000 years.
  • Fraser fir: Fraser fir is a tree much in demand for its wonderful scent, shape and strong branches. It is named after John Fraser, who explored the Appalachian Mountains in the late 1700s. Firs are one of the most common choices for our Christmas trees.

Pines are the second-most popular choice and can include:

  • Austrian pine: Austrian pine has dark green needles, a nice, mild fragrance and retains its needles.
  • Red pine: Red pine is big and bushy with 4- to 6-inch needles.
  • Ponderosa pine: Ponderosa pine can have needles up to 10 inches long.
  • Scotch pine: Scotch pine is the most common Christmas tree. It has stiff branches; stiff, hard needles one inch long; holds its needles for four weeks; and needles will stay on the tree even when the tree is dry. It keeps its aroma throughout the season and was introduced to the U.S. by European settlers.

If I chose a pine tree this year, it would be a white pine. Although it does not have much fragrance, it causes less allergies. I like it for its soft needles that stay on throughout the season. White pine is the largest pine in the U.S. and is the state tree of Michigan and Maine. Its wood is used in cabinets and carvings. The Native Americans used the inner bark as food and the early colonists used the inner bark for cough medicine.

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Blue spruce trees have stiff needles and good form, but they drop needles in warm rooms. It is still one of the best spruces for needle retention. A blue spruce in nature can live 600-800 years in the right climate.

Norway spruce has the strongest fragrance and a nice shape, but the needle retention is poor without proper care.

When you bring home your live tree, be sure to cut an inch or two off the bottom of the trunk and place the tree in a bucket of warm water. When the trees are cut commercially, the trunk will seal over and not allow water to be taken up. Therefore, when you cut it, you now open up that seal. Remember, the tree you buy today was probably cut about a month ago, so the moisture is very important for needle retention. (Source: University of Illinois Extension)

Calendar sale

Phenology calendars are on sale for $15 at the Sauk County UW-Extension office, 505 Broadway St., Baraboo. For more information, call 608-355-3250.

Contact Phyllis Both by email at or by telephone on Monday mornings at the Sauk County UW-Extension office, 608-355-3253.