Cutting down your own Christmas tree should be a fun family activity, not a frustrating one. Make your tree cutting experience a happy one with these tips.
Bundled up tight, with cocoa, snacks and blankets waiting back at the farm, we begin our search. Tiny icicles hang from the branches and mist floats in the air. Kids race from tree to tree, circling once, then moving on. Some trees soar too high, some trees will be stronger next year.
In our family, Christmas begins the day we pick our tree. Never found in the aisles of a superstore or a box in our basement, our Christmas tree is always sourced far beyond the noise of the city. Every year, our family and friends meet at Red Door Farm in Langley, B.C., to find the centrepiece of our holiday celebrations. Everyone has an opinion, and for a while, no one agrees. Then, it happens. Around the corner, in an area we all missed, is a tree, usually a noble or grand fir. It’s not perfect, but perfection has never been our style. My daughter leans in to closely inspect it…. We all wait. “Yes, this is it,” she finally declares.
This is the day I feel Christmas in my heart, a day I will always remember. I hope that, years from now, I’ll find myself in that same forest, searching, holding the hands of my grandchildren.
1. Finding a tree farm
First-timers should research in person and online to find out what tree farms offer, says Gary Thomas, owner of Thomas Tree Farm near Ottawa. “Do you want to get in and out quickly or do you want to have an old-fashioned country experience?” he asks. At his family farm, customers enjoy complimentary hot chocolate and homemade cookies (he and his wife bake 10,000 cookies each season!), as well as hay rides and horse-drawn sleigh rides on the weekends.
To find a “U-cut” farm near you, visit canadianchristmastrees.ca for a list of provincial Christmas-tree grower associations, or visit pickyourownchristmastree.org (click on Canada).
2. Preparing for the search
Know what size of tree you’re looking for before arriving at the farm, says Cheryl Jamieson, who co-owns Red Door Farm with her husband, Bob. A seven- to eight-foot- tall tree will fit most ceilings, but beware—looks can be deceiving on the farm. “Trees appear smaller in the landscape, so we have long measuring sticks to help select the right size,” says Jamieson. Trees that are too tall can always be shortened, she adds. Or use this tip from Thomas: Gauge the height of the tree with the help of someone who is six feet tall; he or she will be able to reach up about eight feet high.
Unless you have a favourite type of tree, look at the variety of species the farm offers—you might like something new. Thomas also recommends dressing for the weather and the work. “You’ll be on your hands and knees with a handsaw under a tree,” he says. Good boots are a must. “Not high heels. Don’t laugh—it has happened.”
Be sure to ask if the farm provides a bow handsaw (most do) or simply bring your own. It is best to leave woodworking handsaws and axes at home, though. As for when to visit, Marilyn Molenaar, office administrator at Scothorn Farms in Hardwood Lands, N.S., says that weekends are their busiest times. “Especially the second weekend in December,” she says. “We recommend, if you’re able, that you come during the week to avoid traffic.”
3. Choosing a tree
Experts say there’s no such thing as the perfect tree, which is why Thomas is reluctant to pick one out for visitors who ask for assistance. “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” he says. “They all look perfect to us.” Jamieson agrees: “Our trees are perfectly imperfect!”
Head to the back of the farm for the most selection. The trees closest to the parking lots are often the first picked. Devise a system to mark the trees you’re considering. Tie ribbons or bandannas on the branches of your favourites so you can compare trees before making your final selection.
Before having the tree loaded onto your car, have the tree shaken (to dislodge any critters) and consider having it baled (wrapped). This service is usually included in the price of the tree. If you’re going to put a tree on top of your car, bring rope and either a blanket, a piece of cardboard or a tarp to protect your roof from scratches.
4. Caring for a tree
Once you get your tree home, cut a puck-width slice off the bottom and place the tree in a bucket of water outside until you’re ready to bring it inside. Be sure to use a good-quality tree stand that holds at least four litres of water. Check the water level daily. Don’t add sugary soda in the hopes of keeping the tree fresher.