No need to get the needle over trees

Cut Christmas trees are available now.
Cut Christmas trees are available now.

You might be lucky enough to have one of those high-tech, artificial Christmas trees stored in the loft from last year – the type that costs the earth but is so life-like that visitors think it’s real.

Or perhaps you have a living version with roots actively growing, yet contained within a pot transferred to the garden after last yuletide.

But if you spent childhood Christmases picking a bare-footed way through layers of fallen Norway spruce needles to reach your presents, the tradition of having a chopped tree dies hard.

The fragrance that emanates from conifers is synonymous with Christmas-time, so, in keeping with at least eight million fellow enthusiasts, I’ll be out looking for the recently-felled dream tree this weekend.

For me this is a combination of type, size, shape, condition and cost.

Norway spruce (picea abies) is the one we grew up with and one of the most reasonably priced, but not necessarily the best choice.

It’s prone to casting needles when under stress, and with a potential 20,000 on board a 6ft-tall specimen, that is worth thinking about.

The simple solution is to treat it, and all cut trees, as we do summer border flowers that have been picked for a vase. When you get home use a saw to make a fresh cut an inch from the trunk end, then plunge it into a bucket of water and leave it in a cool place, a garage being ideal, overnight.

The new cut exposes active cells capable of conducting water up to the branches.

When it’s transferred indoors, make sure there’s a clamp with built-in reservoir and keep the level topped up until twelfth night. On average, a pint a day can be lost, some via needle transpiration, some through evaporation if the room is warm.

Caucasian fir (abies nordmanniana) is more expensive foot for foot than the Norway spruce, but it is blessed with a different needle structure which helps it retain the majority of them, even under stress. This is generally my choice each year, but being a doubting Thomas, I safeguard against the slightest needle loss by doing a belt-and-braces job.

A new cut is made near the trunk base, and the irrigated clamp is used.

Christmas trees are a renewable resource, raised as a crop for a specific market, so there need be no qualms about buying specimens harvested for this particular occasion.

However, they can, and should be, recycled after the event rather than dumping or burning. If you have a shredder, processing is the best option, the end product being used as mulch in the garden or weed suppressant on pathways.

Taking it along to a local authority recycling facility is another way of ensuring that this precious organic resource is not wasted.

Growing your own tree from seed, be it for Christmas or garden use, is not too difficult and can be rewarding.

You can buy seeds of coniferous types from several sources online or collect cones found during a woodland walk and encourage them to open and deliver seeds.

Google ‘conifer seed suppliers’ to access seed offers for Norway spruce, nordman fir, noble fir, blue spruce and others.

Freshly-fallen cones full of seed can be found on woodland floors now.

Left to nature, they could take years to germinate and grow because many have the equivalent of a chemical lock in place, blocking immediate germination.

The key to releasing this is a period of stratification (exposure to cold) followed by warmth.

Place the cones in a warm environment to encourage opening, collect seeds together and soak them for a day or so, then pop them into a polythene bag with moist sphagnum moss ready for the fridge.

After one month in the cold, sow them into a vermiculite-rich, soil-less compost and offer warmth to encourage germination.

Alternatively, buy a living, potted tree the height of your choice.

Keep it in full light and as cool as possible, watering as required to avoid needle loss.

Once Christmas is over, plant it, pot and all, in the garden until it’s required again next year.

Some initial potting-on is required, but once the maximum size you wish to handle is reached, trim any overflowing roots and don’t neglect watering for the period it’s indoors.

Traditional garlands and wreaths can be bought ready-made or constructed by yourself.

Doing it yourself involves binding natural material - such as moss, straw or hay – to a round wire base. Oasis rings are a useful alternative.

Attach conifer foliage to this, then add sprigs of holly and other evergreens.

The latter are held by wreath wires which easily penetrate the base.

But there is always the easy option of buying a basic wreath then adding red ribbons, berries, variegated foliage et al and making it your own!