O Christmas Tree: Choosing beyond Douglas- and Noble firs

Nordmann fir needles (Photo by Lynn Ketchum)
The Nordmann fir is the third most popular Christmas tree grown in Oregon. (Photo by Lynn Ketchum)
Last Updated: 
November 27, 2013

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Choosing the perfect Christmas tree is often a very personal experience.  

Perhaps the green branches of the well-loved Douglas-fir or Noble fir delight you. But if you want to give the star of your living room a different look this winter, Oregon State University Extension Service Christmas tree specialist Chal Landgren suggests Nordmann and Turkish firs – two closely related species with similar characteristics.

Both species arrived in Oregon from Turkey and Russia in the 1960s. To this day, Douglas and Noble firs still make up 95 percent of Oregon's Christmas tree market, according to Landgren. But he has seen more farms growing Nordmann and Turkish firs in recent years. Your best bet to find them is at a choose-and-cut Christmas tree farm, he said.

"The benefits for the grower are that they are not as prone to the insect and disease problems that affect other species," said Landgren, a horticulture professor in OSU's College of Agricultural Sciences. "For the consumer, these firs have characteristics that are more like Noble firs. They have heavy branches for ornaments and their needles stay on for a long time rather than falling onto the carpet, with the provision that they're kept in water." 

More than 130,000 Nordmann firs worth $2.1 million were sold in Oregon in 2010, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Another species Landgren recommends is the Grand fir. It has a pleasant fir scent, he said, but it tends to be more perishable unless kept in water than other species. He also suggests Fraser fir, a pretty tree native to North Carolina that looks like a Noble with smaller needles that stay on the tree for a long time.

To find specific tree species at Oregon farms, Landgren recommends searching the Pacific Northwest Christmas Tree Association's online directory

Landgren offered the following suggestions for keeping your dream tree at its best during the holidays:     

  • At the farm, pick out a tree that looks fresh and healthy, with needles that snap like a carrot. Shake the tree a few times to get rid of old needles.
  • When you bring the tree home, cut a quarter-inch slice off the base of the tree to allow it to take up water in the stand.
  • Choose a stand that can hold a quart of water for every inch of the stem diameter.
  • Place the tree in water if you are storing it prior to putting it up in your living room. 
  • Check the water level daily. Trees will be very thirsty in the first few days inside a heated home. If you keep your house warm, the tree can dry out quickly.   
  • Don't put additives in the water. You may have heard rumors that vodka, bleach, aspirin, sugar and any number of substances can preserve a tree; this is a myth. Some additives can actually cause the tree to shed needles or dry out faster. It just needs clean, cold water, Landgren advised.

For more information, see OSU's Christmas tree program

Author: Denise Ruttan
Source: Chal Landgren