Christmas Conifers

Nancy Helms, Extension Master Gardener in Anoka County

Selecting a Christmas tree can be confusing. Things to consider are height, scent, needle retention, how long you plan on leaving your tree up, and are the branchesstiff enough to hold your ornaments.  Fir, pine and spruce are the most popular Christmas tree varieties. While all appear to be 'Christmas' trees, they have features that distinguish them from one another.

Fir trees have individual flat needles attached to the stem and are dark blue-green in color. The needles grow in a spiral on the tip and lay flat. Fraser firs have soft, dark green needles with a silvery underside. They have stiff branches, great for heavy ornaments, and have a pleasant smell. While they have the best needle retention, they are the most expensive trees. Douglas firs are dense trees with light green needles. The needles are very soft and fragrant when crushed. The branches are not as stiff as other species, requiring lighter-weight ornaments. They tend to be less expensive than the Fraser fir. Canaan firs are relatively new to the tree market. I first admired this beautiful tree on display at the 2016 MN state fair.  They are best described as a cross between a Balsam and a Fraser.  Canaans have a strong fragrance like the Balsam but also have good needle retention like a Fraser.  The needles are very similar to Frasers in terms of color and pattern.

Pine trees bears needles in groups of two, three, or five. Scotch pine have bright green needles approximately an inch in length. They are the most popular Christmas tree and are the most economical. They have good needle retention and will last throughout the season. One downside to Scotch pine is that they often have crooked trunks. White Pines have soft branches, long soft needles and tend to look sparse with upturned branches. Because of this, they are excellent for showing off ornaments in the back and middle of branches. Norway pine is the state tree of Minnesota.  It has long, dark green needles.  Norways are commonly full in shape and have strong branches. 

Colorado Blue Spruce

Colorado Blue Spruce

Spruce trees have round needles individually attached to the stem, not in groups. They roll easily between your fingers. Blue spruce is a popular choice because of its bright blue needles. Its upturned branches give it the traditional symmetrical shape and are stiff enough to hold heavy ornaments. Beware as needles are extremely sharp and can make this one difficult to decorate. White spruce has short stiff needles with a blunt tip. Needle retention is better in white spruce than other spruces. Black hills spruce needles are short and soft with an excellent color, typically a grayish green to bluish green.

Once home, place the tree in water as soon as possible. When a Christmas tree is cut, more than half its weight is water. Select the correct size tree stand. The outer layers of wood are the most efficient in taking up water and should not be removed or whittled down. Monitor the water daily and get decorating!