Produce Pete: ‘Tis the Season for Christmas Trees

Fun facts about holidays firs, plus tips for ensuring their safety and long-lasting freshness.

After New Year’s, Christmas is the second most celebrated festival around the world, and there’s nothing more synonymous with Christmas than the iconic Christmas tree. The Napolitanos have always been big into Christmas. For as long as I can remember, our holiday officially started on Thanksgiving, when Pop would get up from the table, change his clothes, get into his truck and head upstate to New York, New England, and/or Canada to bring back a load of Christmas trees that we could sell at our store, Napolitano’s Produce in Bergenfield. Back in those days we sold thousands of trees, none higher than $1.99, and though it was hard work standing in the cold by the fire barrel, I have great memories of those times!

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Fun facts about Christmas trees

In the U.S., Christmas trees typically hail from Oregon, North Carolina, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Washington and Canada. Here are some other interesting facts about Christmas trees:

  • According to the National Christmas Tree Association, there are approximately 25–30 million real Christmas trees sold in the U.S. every year, and some 350 million real Christmas trees currently growing on farms throughout all 50 states.
  • For every Christmas tree harvested, 1–3 seedlings are planted the following spring.
  • It takes 15 years to grow a typical 6- or 7-foot Christmas tree.
  • Frasers and Balsamsare among the most popular types of Christmas trees sold in the U.S. Balsam firs flourish in cooler climates and are therefore found in abundance in Canada. Fraser firs are very similar in form and appearance to Balsams, and are found in Canada and some regions of the U.S.
  • The planting of Christmas trees has positive effects on the environment. Specifically, Christmas trees produce oxygen and rid the air of carbon dioxide, improve soil stability, enable the use of land that couldn’t be used to grow other crops (e.g., barren slopes, land under power lines, etc.), provide a habitat for wildlife, and are a renewable resource.
  • Many people believe that real Christmas trees dry up and leave needles on their floor or carpet, but in fact, fresh trees don’t shed many needles. If kept in water, it’s not unusual for Christmas trees to last two months or more in your home, shedding very few needles.

Produce Pete discusses how to select and maintain Christmas trees during a segment of NBC’s Weekend Today in New York. Image courtesy of Farms View

At Farms View in Wayne, a family-owned farm since 1894, the Kuehm family offers a range of produce, annuals and perennials on 65 acres, and also sells Christmas trees, wreaths and grave blankets during the holiday season.“We buy from growers and sell nearly 1,500 Christmas trees, ranging from six to 12 feet high, at this time of year,” shares family member Dana Kuehm. “We offer premium Fraser, Balsam and Douglas firs, but Frasers are our most popular because they have the strongest branches for holding ornaments.” According to Kuehm, “There’s nothing like the pine smell of real Christmas trees, or the joy and tradition they bring to the holiday season.” She adds that the Farms View team will provide measuring sticks as well as cut and bag/net trees for customers.

You can also consider cutting your own Christmas tree, an experience offered by such places as Fairview Farm in Long Valley, which will have over 6,000 Christmas trees, up to 12 feet tall, available for cutting as of November 29.

Top tips for maintaining your tree

Whether you buy a pre-cut Christmas tree or cut your own, following are some selection and maintenance tips to help enhance the safe enjoyment of your tree this holiday season:

  • When buying a tree outdoors, be aware that the sky is your ceiling, so what looks small outside may actually be big indoors. Choose a tree that’s at least one foot shorter than your ceiling height so that there’s adequate room for the stand and decorations. “And buy trees during daylight hours so that you can see their height and depth most clearly,” adds Kuehm.
  • When assessing a tree’s freshness, run your hand over the branches—needles shouldn’t break, come off or feel brittle.
  • If you’re not ready to put it up immediately, keep your newly purchased tree in a sheltered, unheated area (such as a porch or garage) to protect it from the elements until you’re ready to decorate it.
  • Before installing the tree in your home, cut the butt end of your tree one inch above the original cut and immediately place the tree in a stand that holds a minimum of one gallon of water. In addition to preventing the needles from drying out/dropping off, as well as maintaining the fragrance of the tree, this step “will help open the veins of the tree and enable its pathways to stay hydrated,” which will keep it fresher longer,Kuehm explains.
  • Check your tree stand every day to ensure that it never runs out of water. A new tree will absorb up to a gallon of water on the first day and about a quart per day thereafter. If a continuous supply of water isn’t there, the tree will sap over and then stop absorbing water.
  • Keep your tree away from heat and draft sources like fireplaces, radiators, etc. Test your light cords and connectors before hanging them on the tree to make sure they’re in good working order. And don’t use cords with cracked insulation or broken/empty sockets. Also, use only UL-listed or FM-approved light strings on a live tree (no spotlights, floodlights or candles). Be sure to unplug lights before you go to bed or leave the house.
  • Don’t burn tree branches in the fireplace, as they could throw off a large amount of heat and cause a house fire. Christmas trees also produce an oily soot when burnt, which could damage your fireplace.
  • Finally, consider preserving the freshness and life of your tree with the following inexpensive solution you can make right at home:

Produce Pete’s Christmas Tree Preservative

  • 1 gallon hot water
  • 2 cups Karo syrup
  • 4 teaspoons bleach (plain)
  • 6 iron tablets, crushed and dissolved

Directions:

Make a fresh cut on the tree with a saw, cutting one inch off the bottom of the trunk. Place the tree in the stand, then add the hot water mixture so that the fresh cut doesn’t dry up and resist absorbing the water. Always keep the stand full of the water mixture.

Enjoy your tree and, from the Napolitano family to yours, wishing you a happy and healthy holiday season!


About “Produce Pete” Napolitano
With over 65 years of experience in the produce industry, New Jersey’s own “Produce Pete” Napolitano is a renowned fruit and vegetable expert, author, and television personality who’s appeared on a highly popular segment on NBC’s Weekend Today in New York broadcast every Saturday morning for over 27 years. For more information, visit Pete’s website.

About Susan Bloom
A contributor to New Jersey Monthly and a variety of other well-known local and national publications, Susan Bloom is an award-winning New Jersey-based freelance writer who covers topics ranging from health and lifestyle to business, food and more. She’s collaborated with Produce Pete on a broad range of articles for nearly a decade.

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