• Ben’s Christmas Tree Farm
7720 Ryan Road, Harvard
• Kuipers Family Farm
1N318 Watson Road, Maple Park
Both farms open for the season Nov. 23.
Nothing says Christmas like loading up the kids and heading to a local tree farm to cut down your very own Christmas tree. The experience of picking out a real tree as a family makes for great holiday memories. Here are some tips for making the most out of your tree farm trip and how to make sure your tree lasts the entire season.
1 All farms are not created equal. If you’re cutting down your own tree, odds are you’ll get a quality tree no matter where you go. "Look for a farm that has quite a few trees on it if you can," says Ben Czarnowski, owner of Ben’s Christmas Tree Farm in Harvard. Also check to see what services are offered. Many farms offer free shaking and baling but some smaller farms may not.
2 It’s all about the tree. You might be surprised to find out just how many types of trees there are to choose from. Kim Kuipers, who owns Kuipers Family Farm in Maple Park with her husband, says the most popular type of tree lately is the Fraser fir. Czarnowski says fir trees in general are very popular because they have shorter needles, hold their needles longer and have a good smell.
3 The pros and cons of pre-cut. It may be a lot easier to go to the tree lot that opened down the street, but it might mean more work in the end. "Some of the lots, if they truck their trees in and it’s the end of October, that tree was cut a long time ago," says Kuipers. If the tree is already losing needles in the lot, stay away.
4 Prepare for potted trees. The idea of being able to plant your tree once Christmas is over appeals to some families, but be prepared for it. "You want to have your hole dug before frost freezes the ground and put straw in it," says Czarnowski. For a potted tree, don’t go more than 6 feet tall—at that height they can weigh up to 150 pounds. Czarnowski recommends only keeping a potted tree in your house for seven to 10 days—any longer than that and you run the risk of the tree starting to bud from the warm indoor temperatures and then dying when it’s back outside.
5 Beware of sticker shock. It’s best to have some idea of what you’ll pay for your tree before you go out to a tree farm, especially since many only accept cash or check. At Ben’s Christmas Tree Farm, pines cost $39 while firs go for $8 a foot. Kuipers Family Farm prices its trees individually and you can expect to pay $55 and up at many farms for popular types of trees.
6 Keep cutting. You can’t just cut your tree down, bring it home and expect it to last very long. Cut trees form a sap seal at the bottom of the trunk very quickly, which prevents it from drinking any water. Once you get home, make another quarter-inch cut. If you’re not going to immediately put the tree up, both Kuipers and Czarnowski recommend putting the tree in a bucket of water in your garage (just make sure it doesn’t freeze). When bringing it back inside, make another quarter inch cut.
7 Water is key. A tree can drink up to a gallon of water the first day after you bring it home. A tree without water will start to form a seal again, making it difficult to take in any water at all. Czarnowski also suggests using warm water at first, which gets the sap flowing a little better. Also keep your tree as cool as you can—warm temperatures can dry the tree out quicker.
8 Defend your tree from your furry friends. Unfortunately there aren’t any sure-fire ways to make your tree less appealing to your dog or cat. Make sure you have a sturdy base so your tree doesn’t tip easily and only let your pets near the tree when supervised.
9 Make sure time is on your side. Obviously you have a limited time frame with a real Christmas tree. Czarnowski says most trees should last two to three weeks while some may last up to four weeks, although "with spruces I wouldn’t want to push it that far," he says. Don’t cut down a tree in early November and expect it to last through New Year’s.
10 Now it’s time to say good-bye. Unless you’re planting it in your backyard, the end of the season means you need some way to dispose of your tree. Most communities offer some sort of tree recycling program, whether the trees are picked up at your home or you take it to a central location to be chipped.