A Christmas Tree Buying Primer


By Emily J. Weitz


The scent on a Christmas tree lot is unmistakable. It conjures up memories of holidays past with the fresh smell of pine needles, brought in from all over the country to be adopted and adorned for the holidays.

But when you make that trip, and you get out in a veritable forest of trees, how do you know what you’re getting and why? Is it the smell you’re going for? Is it the look? The longevity? Phil and Diane Bucking, co-owners of the Sag Harbor Garden Center on Spring Street in Sag Harbor, offer some clarity on what to look for when sifting through the thousands of trees available at this time, the most wonderful, of the year.

The first thing to consider when buying your Christmas tree is whether you want to go with cut or live. Live trees are growing in popularity because after the holiday they can be planted in the yard and can grow and live for years to come – if properly planted and cared for.

“I have customers come in,” says Phil Bucking, “that watch the trees in their yard grow. They’ll look out and remember Christmases from years past.”

Most of the live trees that Bucking carries are Norway spruce trees.

“The survival rate is higher once they’re planted,” he explains.

The trees come with a root ball, which can be placed on a tray in the house, and watered daily. The key when purchasing a live tree, though, said Bucking, is that it cannot be kept in the house for more than a week.

“If it’s inside for longer than that,” Bucking explains, “it will get used to the warmth and will be shocked when it is planted outside.”

So, if you’re thinking of buying a live tree, you should wait until less than a week before Christmas or plan to keep it outside until then. However, Bucking advises that you dig the hole for the tree sooner rather than later, in case the ground freezes.

If you’re planning to purchase a cut tree, there are three main kinds that the Sag Harbor Garden Center carries for specific reasons. The first is the Balsam Fir, which comes in from Nova Scotia.

“This one is the most fragrant,” says Bucking. “It’s also the most popular.”

Another is the Frasier Fir, which is brought in from North Carolina. This one is a bit more full and has a bluish tint. The Frasier holds the needles the longest, so if you’re looking to keep your tree up for a long time, this might be the one for you.

The third tree Bucking proudly carries is the Noble Fir.

“The Noble Fir is a West Coast tree, and we get them in from Oregon and Washington,” says Bucking.

Because they have to travel, these trees are more expensive. But Bucking says a lot of people like them because there’s more space between the branches, which allows room for the ornaments to hang nicely.

No matter what kind of cut tree you’re getting, you will want to ask for a fresh cut on the bottom before you take it home.

“Then you’ll want to get it in the water within an hour,” advises Bucking. “This allows it to soak up the water quicker.”

Keeping your tree hydrated is essential to its longevity. Particularly once it is moved inside to the warmer temperatures, it will need a lot of water to keep the needles.

“Check your tree’s water daily,” Bucking says. “We have a tree preservative that you can add to the water to make it last longer.”

He has also heard a range of home remedies to keep the tree perky for a long time, like adding sugar or aspirin to the water.

“Who knows,” shruged Bucking. “But I’ve had a lot of people tell me that over the years.”

Whether you’re going for a cut tree or a live tree, keep in mind the size of your room and the fullness of the tree, said Bucking. You want to make sure you leave a couple of inches at the top for a tree topper, and Bucking reminds that trees look a lot bigger once they’re in a confined space. Plus, the tree stand will add a few inches to the height.

After 17 years of selling Christmas trees to the Sag Harbor community, the Sag Harbor Garden Center has nothing but good feelings about the holidays.

“People are in a great mood this time of year,” Bucking says. “Most people are happy, buying a tree. I see families growing up, coming back every year. It’s nice to be a part of their family traditions.”

The Sag Harbor Garden Center is located at 11 Spring Street in Sag Harbor. Christmas trees are also sold by the Sag Harbor Lions Club on Long Wharf next to the John A. Ward Memorial Windmill.