Business at Chicago’s numerous Christmas tree lots is revving up in the pre-holiday weeks, so we figured a handful of insights from experts on buying and preserving your blue spruce or Fraser fir or whichever variety you prefer might come in handy. A related side note: If you’re a fan of artificial trees, that’s obviously your prerogative. Just know that there are pros and cons to both types.
Ivy Speck of Ivy’s Christmas Trees (1013 W. Roscoe and 3201 N. Damen) has been in business since 1991 and operates out of Lake View. Richard Aleman helps oversee things at Old Town Gardens (1555 N. Wells). Between the two of them, they’ve imported and sold a forest, so you’d do well to heed their tips.
“Usually a tree isn’t shaped well because it grows fast,” says Speck, who stocks only slow-growing Fraser firs from North Carolina. She also says to look for signs of painting. Some trees are painted for aesthetic purposes, but for others it’s a way to cover up dead branches or needles. “You can always look on the trunk for green paint,” Speck says. According to Aleman, “Make sure there’s no yellowing or browning, and no frostbite. You want a nice, healthy-looking green tree.”
Tug it (gently)
“Pull on the branches where the needles are, and if they come off in your hand, that’s a bad sign that they’re pretty dried out,” Speck says. Aleman agrees. “With a fresh tree, you’re going to be able to mess with the branches without a lot of needles falling off.”
Most lots will give your tree’s trunk a fresh cut with a chainsaw so water is more easily absorbed when it’s placed in a stand. Aleman and his crew make a cross-shaped mark at the very bottom as well. “Without [a cut], it won’t get any water,” Aleman says. Especially for those who buy early (more than three or four weeks from Christmas), Speck suggests a good three- to four-day soaking post-cut in five gallons of water so “it’ll pretty much take all the water it needs for the season.”Then, after it’s placed in your stand, minimal watering is required.”
“When you’re putting a Christmas tree inside, try not to keep it under a vent or heater because that contributes to the tree dying out and burning a little quicker than it should,” Aleman says. A little TLC can’t hurt, either, Speck jokes. “Rub it, talk to it, kiss it, hug it.”