Friday, December 30, 2005

Fighting the Good Fight

One of the most frustrating things our industry faces is the way the news media scares consumers with stories about fires involving Christmas Trees. Often, news stories will report that a Christmas Tree “caused” a fire, when the simple fact is a plant can’t cause a fire. Fires are caused by heat, sparks, flames or electricity. A tree can get to the point where it is flammable and can be ignited, but so can most things in a home. The difference is none of those other things are news stories.

If someone is smoking in bed and their home burns down, do you blame the comforter? Just once I’d love to see a news story where the reporter says “We’ve had another comforter fire tonight...”

Often, the news media blames a Christmas tree when it’s not even the first item ignited in a home fire. Read this article the Deputy Fire Chief is quoted in the middle of article saying the fire was caused by a spark from the fireplace igniting an area rug. SO WHY IS THE HEADLINE “CHRISTMAS TREE FACILITATES SPREAD OF FIRE IN PLEASANTON HOME”????!!!??!!!!! Why isn’t the headline “Area Rug Facilitates Spread of Fire...”?????

The other thing that is frustrating is that people believe fake trees are flame proof because they have the words “flame retardant” on their boxes. The problem is, those are just words on a box. There is no testing lab or agency which publishes standards they must meet to use those words on their product. Just this week, a fake tree caught fire in hotel at Disneyland. Here’s a link to that story.

They should use a natural tree with a water stand next year.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Christmas Trees: A Medical Miracle?

I think a “wow” story is in order.

We received a link to a story published by the Toronto Globe & Mail today. The story is about a company that plans to make something called shikimic acid, the main ingredient in a treatment medicine for influenza, from the needles of farm-grown Christmas Trees. This medicine is being championed as the first line of defense against a possible pandemic outbreak of bird flu.

Now that’s a “Wow!” story. Real Christmas Trees will be used to help stop the bird flu. That’s certainly not something the fake tree factories can claim.

Here’s the link to the story:
Link to Toronto Globe & Mail Article.

Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Deadline Approaching for Santa Contest!

It’s not too late to enter the “Help Santa Find the Perfect Real Tree” contest. NCTA will be giving out $5,000 in scholarships or trip for 4 to Orlando to four different students in age groups from 6-18. Plus one will win a grand prize of $10,000 total in scholarship money.

You can read about last years winners here.

You can read a news story about last year’s Grand Prize winner.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Production 101

We get many questions from students throughout the year doing research on Christmas Trees or agriculture. Here’s a good question from Zal:

From: Zal
Sent: Friday, December 16, 2005
Subject: shearing question, using helicopter

Probably a silly question but we are doing a report on Christmas tree harvesting and we been looking for info on power shearing the trees into a conical shape, and specially using a helicopter.
Can you help with info if you know of an outfit that does that?

Answer: Those are two different topics Zal. Shearing is done May - July. Harvesting is done in Nov - Dec. Shearing is done in a multitude of ways. Much depends on the size of the operation, grower's preferred methods, species being sheared, age of trees being sheared. Methods can be anything from handheld shearing snips, knives that look kind of like machetes, back pack style powered tool, to tractor powered machines. Helicopters are used for harvesting only at big farms with poor road access or steep terrain. They are not used in shearing at all.

Those Mischievous Cats ...

From: Kala, New Ulm, MN
Sent: Thursday, December 15, 2005
Subject: Oh no!

Here's a pet-related question for you...

My husband and I put up our Christmas tree on Monday and found that our cats had tipped it over during the night. It seemed to be ok; I think it was taking water yet at the time. But now it's been tipped again, and we didn't have time to deal with it before work, so the tree went out into our garage (our very cold Minnesota winter garage). Is our tree doomed?

Answer: I don't think the tree is doomed, but I know some kitty cats who need a serious "timeout."

The temperature in the garage won't hurt the tree, in fact cold is much better than warm. The bad thing is having the cut surface of the trunk exposed to air for more than a few hours. If that's happened, cut another 1/2 inch or so off the bottom before putting back up in the stand and in water. This will re-open the tissue which absorbs water. Also, depending on how cold it is in your garage, if it's much below freezing, the branches could be brittle and susceptible to snapping, so handle with care if the tree is frozen.

You should invest in a sturdier tree stand if your cats are going to continue behaving badly. Depending on your room set-up, you could also try securing the tree with some fishing line tied to something stationary like an end table or something, to keep it from tipping again.

"Cats Behaving Badly" ... wasn't that a one-hit wonder band in the 80's?.....

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Don't Be Fake

Got a great email from someone today. He had heard a story on NPR about how people are returning to the tradition of getting a fresh, farm-grown Christmas Tree instead of a fake, plastic one. He suggested our industry get a new slogan to encourage more of that.

On a side note: a grower was interviewed on that NPR piece and he had a great quote. When asked what he thought of people who choose an artificial tree, he said, “I just wonder if they also get their wife plastic flowers for Valentines Day?” Now that’s a great quote!

From: ken
Sent: Thursday, December 15, 2005
Subject: Slogans

I just caught that piece on NPR about your association. I cannot remember a year that I did not have a real tree. If I were considering a new slogan: "Artificial Trees are for Artificial People" Too strong? "Fake Trees are for Fake People" or "Real Trees are for Real People". Any will do but for years I have used the first one with a bit of disdain in my voice.

Good luck this season, mine (Real Tree) is already up, decorated by the kids and it looks, well, REALly nice.

Answer: Thanks Ken. We're encouraged by folks like you who prefer a real, traditional Christmas. Just think what kind of special memories your kids are always going to have of their family tradition of picking out and decorating a fresh Christmas Tree each year. It's sad to know many kids won't have those kinds of memories too, they'll remember pulling a dusty box out of the attic or basement instead.

Our current official "slogan" is 'Nothing says Christmas more than a Real Tree.'
Let’s hear from our web visitors! Write in and suggest a slogan for the Real Christmas Tree industry and fans of a traditional Christmas. We’ll post the most interesting ones.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Reader Q&A

From: jhanson
Sent: Tuesday, December 13, 2005
Subject: Tree Watering Question

Whoops -- I inadvertently let the water level drop below the trunk of my fresh-cut tree. The bottom felt moist -- very sticky and sappy. What can I do to give my tree the best chance of continuing to take water?

Answer: Having the cut surface exposed to air for a long period of time greatly reduces the tree's ability to absorb and move water molecules through its system, but it doesn't completely eliminate it. Much like a cut flower, the only effective solution if you think that's happened is to make a fresh cut to reopen the plant tissue which absorbs water.

Again, though, the rate of water level in the stand going up and down will fluctuate naturally. I put my tree up Friday night and within 2 hours it had absorbed about 3 qts of water, then it slowed down and I didn't fill the stand again until almost 48 hours later.

From: Steven
Sent: Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Ok so I'm very curious why when you click on the image of the White House Christmas Tree here it is shown side ways pointing to the "right"? Perhaps a political comment considering the current occupant? :-)

Answer: LOL...interesting observation. And I thought I was a conspiracy theorist...

Nope, just a case of the graphical image not being edited before put on that page. Once it's flipped around it will be non-ideological again.

....can a tree be ideological?....

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Smelly Tree, Smelly Tree

More interesting questions ...

I have a very interesting situation. I went to a choose and cut farm on Saturday and cut a very nice and healthy looking white pine. (I think it's a white pine).

Anyway - the tree seems very healthy and is drinking lots and lots of water. I tried something new this year and crumbled up a small portion of an "evergreen feeding spike" into the watering jug and let it dissolve. We now have a foul odor in the house that we swear seems to be coming from the tree? (almost a rotten egg smell)...Have you ever heard of a fresh cut Christmas Tree stinking? I am dumbfounded!

Answer: An evergreen feeding spike? Isn't that basically fertilizer? Which is mostly nitrogen, which combined with 4 hydrogen molecules makes NH4, which is ammonia? That's what smells like rotten eggs...not the tree.

Remove the water with the feeding spike in it and replace with plain fresh tap water as recommended in our care tips. A crushed up feeding spike does not aid the tree in any way. You can use a turkey baster to remove the stinky water, or even a shop vac with a small tube attachment.

From: Afottrell
Sent: Tuesday, December 13, 2005
Subject: tree by mail?

We need a skinny tree, but fresh, and read a newspaper article about Christmas trees being bought by mail online. We want to order a 7-8 foot pine or fir that is no more than 4 and a half feet wide at its widest. We are willing to pay up to $75., including shipping.

Answer: Yep, you can certainly order a tree through the internet and have it shipped directly to your home. I have done this for years. It’s quite convenient for those who don’t have time to go out and shop for a tree. A list of Christmas Tree farms which offer mail order sales can be found @ on “Retail Mail Order Trees” in the left column.

Some things to consider:
  • you are limited to a 7 foot maximum size tree
  • not all species can be shipped because they are not durable enough
  • you will need a saw to make a fresh cut off the stump before putting in the stand, even if you order overnight delivery

Monday, December 12, 2005

Reader Q&A

We live in Arizona and used to put our tree in the swimming pool when we had chlorine and it seemed to last longer. Now we have a salt chlorinated pool is it still ok to put it into the pool?

Answer: Ummm...OK, I give up, why would you put a Christmas Tree in your pool?

From: Scott
Subject: Birch Pines

At my place of employment we are discussing the pros & cons of various Christmas tree species. One of my fellow co-workers is stating that he has found a place that is selling Birch Pines. because of this he is taking quiet a bit of flak due to no one else being able to find documentation of that species. Could you please settle this discussion before we purchase live tree's for this holiday season.

Answer: Never heard of a "Birch Pine" species grown as a Christmas Tree, nor can I find it listed on the Arbor Day Foundation's tree guide

However, that doesn't mean that I don't believe your co-worker when he says there's a place selling "Birch Pines" as Christmas Trees. It's not terribly uncommon for a species of tree to be referred to in unique regional lexicon names. For example, the Red Fir is a species native to northern California and not uncommon in western states, but to most people in California, they are not referred to as "Red Fir" but as "Silvertip." Another example would be Concolor Fir, which is commonly referred to as "White Fir" even though it's scientific name is abies concolor Hildebr. Often this is the result of various "cultivars" of the same species being grown by different growers.

So, while Birch Pine is not a species unto itself, I would say the "flack" he is receiving should be reserved until he is proven wrong by a visit to the retail location itself. They may indeed be selling a tree which they call "Birch Pine."

Friday, December 9, 2005

How Early Is Too Early?

Here's a question from a Web site visitor:

I live in North Carolina and usually buy a real tree for Christmas, but the last few years they have been cut so early they dry out and rain needles before Christmas. I know part of it may be that my house may be dry, but I do cut the bottom and water every day until it stops drinking which is after a few days.

Then I check the water often. I would rather buy my tree closer to Christmas, but they've already been cut so I feel like I have to buy it early to water it. Then it won't last until Christmas, much less New Years. I've always taken mine down New Years Day or the day after, but the last few years they rain needles until I can barely make it until Christmas.

You are about to lose a lifetime customer, because I want better for my money besides wanting to enjoy the tree.


Answer: First, you shouldn't feel obligated to buy a tree early. It's more common for retail lots with cut trees, especially the bigger ones, to receive multiple shipments from the growers throughout the 3 or 4 weeks of the sales season. In fact, growers are still harvesting this week to ship loads of trees to retail lots. So, just because it's Dec 9, does not mean all trees on lots are "old" meaning they were harvested weeks ago. And we advise consumers to ask retail lot managers directly "Do you receive multiple shipments? Are they staggered? Do you receive trees from multiple farms?" Also, we advise consumers to look for indications that retail lots are doing the necessary things to store and display trees properly. Are they kept baled/netted until brought out for display? Are they stored mostly out of the sun and wind? If it's a warm climate, are the trees misted?

Once home, it sounds like you've done the necessary things to keep a tree fresh. It's not unusual at all for the water absorption rate to slow down, speed up, slow down, or any combination like that. As a tree loses moisture from evaporation out of the needles, it will move water molecules up through it's system from the base of the trunk (from the stand) but the speed of that process is influenced by a number of factors including temp of home, relative humidity inside the home, direct sunlight on the tree, and even the unique genetics of the tree itself. Even two trees of the same species from the same farm can perform differently sitting right next to each other in the same home.

I know that sounds like a lot of double-talk or mumbo jumbo...I just want to be thorough and try to explain all we know about trees and how they react in the home as a Christmas Tree. It is unusual for a tree, when properly cared for, to not maintain freshness and aroma for 4 weeks, the typical time inside. Losing some needles is natural and inevitable.

Tuesday, December 6, 2005


Today’s topic, debunking another myth about Real Christmas Trees.

Often, we get emails and inquiries from news media asking if there is a type of Christmas Tree that won’t bother a person’s allergies. We’ve collected sources of information both about trees and allergies and share these with people.

Sources include the National Institute of Environmental Health Science (NIEHS) and the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI). So it’s not just “the Christmas Tree people” saying that the farm-grown tree itself is not the culprit of allergy causes.
A quick summary of the sources we have found are that while it’s possible that a person may be allergic to tree pollen or even tree sap, it’s not as widespread as many believe. We did hear from someone this week who had a family member that did have an allergy to tree sap. My understanding is that is quite rare and I certainly sympathize with someone who has that condition. As a quick side note, I also sympathize with people who have an allergy to peanuts.

That has nothing to do with Christmas Trees...I just love peanut butter.

Anyway, as for pollens, which certainly can be an allergen to people, a Real Tree itself is unlikely to produce pollen during December, and even if it did, pollens from pines are not a known allergen. According to the NIEHS of the 50,000 different kinds of trees, less than 100 have been shown to cause allergies. Most allergies are specific to one type of tree.

But being outdoors for years in the field, a Christmas Tree can collect pollens, dust, mold or other allergens. Of course, so can the artificial tree stored in the attic or basement. Whether you use a fresh Christmas Tree from a farm, or an artificial tree stored in a box, if you have sensitive allergies to dust, molds, etc. it's probably a good idea to simply spray the tree down in the yard with a hose before putting up. Let it dry completely before putting in the stand and bringing indoors.

Resources we have found pertaining to holiday allergy prevention:

Saturday, December 3, 2005

Trees for Troops Update

This blog entry is from Steve Drake, CEO of the National Christmas Tree Association and the Christmas SPIRIT Foundation. Steve was traveling along with the West Route of the Trees for Troops program sponsored by FedEx and the Christmas SPIRIT Foundation. To learn about and follow this program which is providing more than 3,500 Christmas Trees to military personnel and their families who otherwise would not be able to have one go to

Trees for Troops: Week 1 …… what an awesome week!

The media coverage was outstanding... just overwhelming…and snowballing. I’ve been trying to keep up with at least four “live remotes” and lots of other TV and newspapers. And, there are indications of even more media coverage next week. In fact, I will be on a Fox News Network interview Monday morning.

Some stats (based on information today) …FedEx has picked up 3,064 trees (out of the expected 3,839) …and reports its trucks have traveled 2,476.7 miles through 12 states.
I had the privilege of following most of the West Coast route which included picking up trees at KLM Farm, Silver Mountain Tree Farm, Batagglia Ranch and Peltzer Pines as well as being part of the deliveries to Ft. Lewis and Camp Pendleton.

So, the media was huge and getting bigger. But, today (Friday, December 2) the real reason for Trees for Troops came to life. Our experience at Camp Pendleton was inspiring. I wish you all could have been there... let me try to give you a sense of it.

Camp Pendleton included two stops…an 8:30 AM stop at the north gate to deliver about 200 trees to families and an 11:00 AM stop to deliver about 700 trees to the main section of the base. We arrived at 8:15 to find the FedEx truck had arrived early and there was a line of more than 100 families waiting patiently to select their trees. Thanks to about 15 FedEx volunteers, the twin trailers were unloaded in about 45 minutes. Then, the families took over …in less than 30 minutes, all 200 trees were gone! One woman told a cameraman that they had not been able to have a Real Christmas Tree for the last five years and she was so excited to get one since her husband was coming home Monday.

Then we drove to the main delivery point at Camp Pendleton. We were about 15 minutes ahead of the FedEx trucks, and as we arrived at the pickup location (which had been empty Thursday), I couldn’t believe all the cars parked. We walked to the pickup site and I was startled to find about 300 families already lined up to get a Christmas Tree! The Marine officials told us that the first family (with two little kids) had arrived at 7:30 just to be sure they would get a tree. As the FedEx truck pulled around the corner, the crowd started to cheer. Again, the families waited patiently until they were given the signal (one by one) to start picking out their trees. And, Marines / families just kept coming and coming…until we were completely out of trees (in less than two hours)!

The joy and gratitude were clearly evident. One woman (wearing a “Marine mom” sweatshirt) came clear across the tent to personally thank Jim Heater (a Christmas Tree farmer representing our industry) for providing the trees. The little kids were excited. I got a photo of three kids “riding their tree” as though it was a toy horse. And, the Camp Pendleton base commander (a Marine colonel) thanked Jim and I and all the Christmas Tree growers in such a thoughtful and sincere way that Jim and I both choked up. As Jim said, it was very humbling.

So, after six hotels in seven nights, I’m wiped out and exhilarated!
The Trees for Troops program has clearly impacted families who are putting their lives on the line for our freedom. It has been very moving.

Monday, we start again…and will be delivering trees to families at three more bases.

Merry Christmas!
Steve Drake

Thursday, December 1, 2005

In Hot Water?

Received an interesting question today ...

Please explain the scientific basis for putting hot water in a tree stand. Thank you.

First, let me tell you that there are scientists out there who do controlled studies on these issues. Typically, to measure the water uptake and moisture retention rate of Christmas Trees based on different variables, they use a machine which presses the water molecules out of a small branch of a tree. Weight is measured both before and after, and the difference in weight indicates how much moisture was in the plant material. The scientists who do this are Plant Pathologists and most work at university extension research facilities.

NCTA works with these individuals and they share the results of their studies with us. This is what we base our care tips to consumers on. I only mention that so that it’s clear that our care tips are not based simply on anecdotal evidence, but rather actual scientific evidence.
OK. As for water temperature in the tree stand. We have been told from the scientists that water temperature does not have any measurable impact on either rate of water intake or moisture retention in most every species studied. The one exception that I have heard is the Blue Spruce, which has shown an increase in water uptake with hot water in the stand instead of tap temperature water. However, even that did not show consistent results.

So, because of that, we simply recommend regular temp tap water in the tree stand. No need to heat water first.