Giving and getting trees for the holidays

Every few years, my husband and I head up north to Superior National Forest for a winter weekend at the Snowshoe Country Lodge. It is certainly no ski resort, but we love the place for its solitude and rustic charm. Owner Ron will get your cabin’s wood stove going, but from then on it’s up to you to feed the fire. Sprinting to the outhouse in below zero temperatures can be daunting, and you best not forget to bring your own sleeping bags for the beds. As a reward for your hard work, though, there are miles of trails to snowshoe and ski, your dog is welcome to join you for the weekend, and if you come to visit during November or December, you can cut down and haul home a balsam fir as a memento of your stay.

In the great holiday debate, I stand firmly in favor of real trees for Christmas. Sure, artificial trees are reusable and they don’t drop needles. I know plenty of perfectly nice people that put them up in their houses year after year, but I’ll never be one of them. For me, its not a real Christmas tree unless it fills your house with the scent of pine. Part of the fun is hunting for the perfect tree each year, then bringing it home and discovering that it’s either too tall to fit in the living room or so wide that it touches the wall on the other side of the room. Even better is the tree that requires you to tromp through several feet of snow, labor with a hacksaw to cut it down and then drive for several miles with your arm out the window to keep the tree from toppling off the roof of your car.

I like real trees so much that I’ve begun giving them away as holiday presents. This year, my aunts and uncles will all be receiving a small metal ornament in their Christmas cards, “With this purchase, a tree has been planted in your name.” Two years ago, I ordered my mom several dozen trees and shrubs through her county’s annual tree sale, which I was then forced to plant for her when the trees arrived that spring. Trees are the perfect present for the person that has everything. Best of all, they’re equally good for Hanukkah, Christmas and birthdays alike.

Locally, the Washington Conservation District (651-275-1136) has held an annual tree sale for more than 30 years. They sell bundles of large bare-root seedlings for the low price of just $32.50 for 25 trees. New this year, they are also offering a bird packet for $50, which includes five each of bur oak, white oak, black cherry, white pine, nannyberry and wild plum. Many of the county’s shelterbelts, farmstead and field windbreaks, and wildlife habitat and reforestation projects were started as a result of this program, which to date has helped local residents to plant more than 1 million trees. You can order your friends and family a bundle of trees for the holidays and then leave it to them to pick them up and plant them on the last weekend in April.

Since the trees sold through the Conservation District are small, many people choose to plant them slightly closer together than recommended and then thin the stand once the trees get older and start to grow together. Thinning the stand, of course, is a euphemism for cutting down a few trees, which brings me back to my original point that real trees make the best Christmas trees. If you’ve planted pine, spruce or fir on your property in the past few years, now might be a good time to take a look at the trees, determine if they’ve got enough room to continue growing and then do some selective cutting. If you leave the bushiest trees standing and cut down the scraggly ones, you can either use them as firewood, leave them lying to create habitat for ground birds and mammals, or haul them through the yard and into your house. Once you brush off the snow and trim down the base, they might just resemble a Charlie Brown tree, but those ones, of course, are the best trees of all.