Cutting down your own tree for the holidays is an enticing and intensive affair. (Take it from these two Minnesota transplants who’ve done it themselves.) For those ready for a challenge, we spoke to tree whisperer Nick Wolcyn, who runs Wolcyn Tree Farms & Nursery in Cambridge, an hour north of the Twin Cities. He gave us some tips on choosing, cutting, and nurturing an evergreen:
1) Measure the room
Take the measurements of the room where your tree will be placed before heading to the farm. Most trees appear smaller when they’re in the ground than they do inside your living room. “There’s no reason to cut a 12-foot tree if you have a 10-foot ceiling,” laughs Wolcyn.
2) Choose a tree that will last as long as you need
If you want to put up a tree in mid- to late-November, go for a Fraser Fir (starting at $64.95). It has sturdy branches and excellent needle retention, lasting 6 to 8 weeks total—or about 2 weeks longer than the average Balsam. If you’re shopping in early- to mid-December, a Balsam (from $54.95) will give you the most bang for your buck (and smell lovely to boot). Its close cousin, the Canaan Fir, is a good in-betweener—”longer-lasting than a Balsam but more fragrant than a Fraser,” says Wolcyn. A pre-cut Korean Fir is another cool option if you want a tree that’ll potentially last through the Super Bowl. Its needles have a naturally white flash and its scent is nice and citrusy.
3) Know what you want out of your tree
For more of an “old-school” look, consider a Scotch Pine—a top-selling tree in the 1980s and ’90s but considered an underdog today. It’s a full-bodied tree with stiff needles, a wiggly silhouette, and a skinnier trunk. “They last plenty long but are a little pokey to the touch,” notes Wolcyn.
Crazy about ornaments? Stick with the Fir family (Balsam, Fraser, Canaan, Douglas, or Korean). “The branching is a bit heavier, so you can hang more stuff on them,” explains Wolcyn. White Pines, in particular, are too flimsy to hold anything more than string lights.
4) Buy a big tree stand, so it holds enough water
For the love of grandma, lose the vintage tree stand. It may look nostalgic, but it doesn’t hold nearly enough water to keep a thirsty tree happy. “Unless you have Adam Sandler hired as your waterboy to come by throughout the night, that tree is going to dry out by the morning,” warns Wolcyn. A proper reservoir for a 6-foot (or taller) tree should hold at least a gallon of water.
5) And get that tree some water—stat!
Try to get your freshly felled tree into water within 3 to 6 hours, or else it could ooze sap, seal over, and refuse to drink. If you can’t put your new tree up immediately, store it overnight in an unheated area protected from wind and sun. When you’re ready to mount it, slice a half inch off the bottom of the trunk and wait an hour or two to make sure it’s taking water. “The last thing you want to do is decorate that whole tree, and then realize you have to take it down,” says Wolcyn.
6) After a few days, taper off your watering
Water your new tree two to three times for the first 3 to 4 days; after that, once a day should do the trick.
7) Prep for needle droppage before decorating
With a decent-sized reservoir, your tree shouldn’t be a dead needle factory. But cleanup is even easier when you tuck a jumbo garbage bag underneath the tree skirt and stand before decorating. Wolcyn Tree Farms distributes these for free with the purchase of a tree.
8) If you’re roughing it, get a permit
Want to go au naturel? You can cut down your own tree, Clark Griswold-style, in Superior National Forest, but you must obtain a permit first. Visit fs.usda.gov/detail/superior/passes-permits for details.