ESCANABA - Christmas trees are the cornerstone of holiday decorating for many families, but there is more to finding and maintaining the perfect tree than visiting a tree lot.
More than a dozen varieties of Christmas trees are grown in Michigan according to the Michigan Department of Agricultural and Rural Development, but local growers say some varieties are more popular than others.
"Fraser firs are getting to be one of the most popular right now," said Greg DuBois, owner of DuBois & Sons Tree Farm in Spalding. Balsam firs are also popular with DuBois' customers.
No matter what type of tree customers choose, there are certain steps that should be taken when picking out and maintaining a tree to ensure that the tree will be beautiful throughout the holiday season.
According to Bill Cook, forester and wildlife biologist for MSU Extension, one of the biggest things to look for in a real, pre-cut tree is that it is green without being painted.
"It's pretty standard procedure, actually. A lot of the trees are harvested in the fall and they sit around in coolers," he said. Consumers may be able to tell if a tree has been painted by examining the trunk and branches for stray paint.
Consumers should avoid trees with brown patches, stiff needles, or those that lose green needles when shaken. These trees, which are too dry, will not last as long as fresher trees and pose an added fire risk.
In general, Cook believes consumers should trust their instincts by buying a tree that looks good to them and fits their tastes. "If it looks good, buy it - the fresher the better," he said.
According to the Michigan Christmas Tree Association, keeping a real tree watered is the most important thing to keep it fresh and reduce the risk of fire.
One-quarter to half an inch should be cut from the bottom of the tree before being placed into a stand that holds water. A fresh-cut tree may take up to a gallon of water on the first day and a quart or more on following days.
While most families only keep their Christmas tree on display during the holiday season, the process of bringing the tree indoors takes much longer than that.
"It's a year-round thing from planting new ones in the spring, shearing them all summer, harvesting them, and taking them to Chicago to sell," said DuBois. This year, DuBois has been in Chicago selling trees since the Tuesday before Thanksgiving and will continue to sell until around Dec. 23.
Before a tree can be sold anywhere it has to reach a certain height - usually between 6 and 7 feet. On average, it takes a tree seven years to reach retail height, but the process can take as long as 15 years.