Whenever I think about the annual search for a perfect Christmas tree, the image from Christmas Vacation of the Griswold family heading out into the country in their station wagon, while Clark and Ellen sing Christmas carols, always comes to mind.
Clark says, “We’re kicking off our fun old-fashioned family Christmas by heading out into the country in the old front-wheel drive sleigh to embrace the frosty majesty of the winter landscape and select that most important of Christmas symbols.”
And, while we don’t often experience the kind of snow in that movie, Clark had it right. Somehow the holidays just don’t feel the same without a Christmas tree. For those who love the hunt for a fresh tree, there may be a farm in your own backyard. Many families have an annual tradition of going to a local farm to select a tree, cutting it down and taking it home. These trips are often the highlight of the season.
Before heading out the door on the great tree hunt, there are a few things to consider whether you are going to a farm or a neighborhood lot. You don’t want to get caught up in the moment and go home with a tree that isn’t a good fit.
Selecting your tree:
- How tall and wide is the space you plan to place the tree? Will it be seen from all sides? You don’t want to get home with a tree that is too big for your home.
- If you are going to a local tree lot, be aware that some import the trees from out of state and they may have been cut a few weeks earlier and dried out on transport. You want it to be as fresh as possible. It should have a healthy appearance with flexible needles that don’t fall off when you run your hand over the branches. Pick up the tree and drop it on the cut end; only a few needles should drop.
- Examine the base of the tree to be sure it is straight and there is enough room, at least six- to eight-inches to easily fit into your stand.
- If you are going to a tree farm, be prepared for the weather and watch for uneven ground. Wear boots or comfortable shoes and don’t forget your gloves – your hands will appreciate it when holding or lifting the tree.
- If you are going to a cut-your-own farm, be sure the farm provides saws, or take one with you.
- Know what the farm charges for trees; they are often priced by the foot.
- Most farms provide shaking and netting services making it easier to take the tree home. And, don’t forget rope or bungee cords to secure it to your vehicle.
- Grab a tree removal bag if available. It can be used as a tree skirt and helps keep the floor clean when the tree is taken down.
Caring for your tree:
- Once you have your tree home, you need a stand that is large enough for the trunk to fit, with an adequate water capacity. According to the University of Illinois Extension Service, the stand should hold one gallon of water for every inch of diameter of the trunk. And, additives such as aspirin, aren’t necessary; trees do just as well with plain water.
- Keep an eye on the water level; it is possible for water to be in the reservoir but the tree base may not be submerged.
- Only use UL approved electrical decorations and cords. Miniature lights give off less heat and reduce the drying effect on trees. And, never leave your lights on overnight or while you are away from home.
- To keep the tree as fresh as possible, avoid putting it near a fireplace, heating vent or in direct sunlight.
- Never burn part of a Christmas tree in a fireplace or wood burner. Pine trees ignite quickly, spark, and create large amounts of creosote, which is a fire hazard.
- Once the holidays are over, take the tree down before it dries out. This is where the tree removal bag comes in handy. Just pull the bag up around the tree and take outdoors.
Recycling your tree:
- Trees are biodegradable, and many communities have ways to recycle them. Some offer curbside pick-up for recycling or have drop-off locations. There are also tree recycling/mulching programs. Check with your local public works department.
- If you know someone with a pond, they may want the tree. Trees makes a great refuge and feeding area for fish.
- If you are a bird-lover, put it in your backyard and string popcorn, suet or fresh orange slices on it. Eventually you will have to break it apart but it will be a welcome haven for those feathered friends until then.
- Cut your tree up to fit into your yard waste container.
There are tree farms all across the state and some offer an experience that includes bonfires, treats, wagon rides and even reindeer. To find a tree farm in your area, go to http://extension.illinois.edu/trees/treefarms.cfm. Listed below are just a few.
- Alfeldt’s Christmas Trees, Oakdale
800-369-0797 or http://alfeldtstreefarmandnursery.homestead.com/
- Allen Farm, Buncombe
618-658-5678 or visit their Facebook page
- Bomke’s Patch, Springfield 217-341-4905
- Grady’s Christmas Tree Farm, Trivoli 309-362-2204
- Hardy’s Reindeer Ranch, Rantoul 217-893-3407 or
- Helmig’s Tree Farm, Saybrook 309-475-9056
Keller Tree Farm, Toledo 217-521-1934
- Phillips Christmas Trees, Heyworth 309-473-3129
- Santel Tree Farm, Damiansville 618-315-1534
- Shenandoah Tree Farm, Alma 618-432-7127 or visit their
- Skuba Tree Farm, Eagerville 623-297-0588
- Tucker’s Tree Farm, Mattoon 217-234-2917
- Voltz Tree Farm, Geneseo
309-944-2484 or http://www.voltztreefarm.com/
- Whewell Christmas Trees, Arenzville 217-997-2334
- Williams Tree Farm, Rockton 800-423-NOEL or