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Just The Right One

How to pick the perfect Christmas tree

-Photo by Hans Madsen
Jeff Becker, co-owner of Becker Florists Inc., looks over the flocking on a tree available in their Fort Dodge Shop. Flocking is one for consumers purchasing a live tree.

If you have an artificial Christmas tree, stop reading and do the crossword puzzle instead.

If your family wants a real one, however, then this is for you: a guide to help avoid situations such as the one faced by Margaret and Steve Hypothetical.

To paraphrase NASA:

“Margaret, we have a problem, our ceiling is nine feet and this Christmas tree is 11 feet tall.”

Margaret then gives Steve a “look” and leaves him to figure out whether to cut two feet off the top, or two feet off the bottom.

-Photo by Hans Madsen
Becker Florists Inc., employee Lee Trygstad looks over a freshly flocked Christmas tree to make sure he got the white material on properly.

Don’t be like Steve and Margaret.

Jeff Becker, co-owner of Becker Florists Inc., in Fort Dodge, knows a thing or two about Christmas trees. He sells trees imported from Wisconsin and also has a tree farm where customers can select and cut their own.

Before you go, though:

“They need to know how much space they have,” he said. “You also need to make sure you have plenty of distance from fireplaces, heat ducts and any other heat source.”

Trees also tend to look smaller than they actually turn out to be. This is especially true on the tree farm.

-Photo by Hans Madsen
Jeff Becker, co-owner of Becker Florists Inc. holds a tiny potted Christmas tree among the selection of trees available at their shop in Fort Dodge.

“Take a tape measure,” he said. “I’ve had a lot of people tell me ‘that didn’t look that big till I got it home.”

The farm-grown trees are long needle Scotch pines.

“They grow well in sandy soil,” he said. “Plus the deer don’t like the longer sharper needles.”

Besides its measurements, another thing to look for in a tree is a nice straight trunk. A crooked one makes it difficult to stand the tree up properly.

For those that cut a tree on the farm, they might even get a bonus – bird nests are common. Becker said they can add a nice touch to the decorations and the birds are done with them.

-Photo by Hans Madsen
Becker Florists Inc., worker Lee Trygstad, at left, and seasonal worker Chris Johnson put temporary bases on trees cut from Becker's tree farm that are destined for the flocking room.

Once the tree is home, it’s important to keep it supplied with plenty of water. This helps reduce needle loss and reduces the fire hazard as well. In order for the tree to soak up water from its stand, it needs to have a bit cut off the bottom of the trunk.

“Give it a fresh cut,” he said. “Even if you’re not putting it up right away. Give it a fresh cut then put it in a bucket of water in the garage where it’s cool. You can bring it in when you’re ready.”

There’s no such thing as over-watering a Christmas tree.

“The more water the better,” he said. “The first three days check the water level every morning and night, after that, daily.”

No matter what, the tree will shed some needles. Shaking the tree before bringing it in will help keep that down.

To check a tree for freshness, bend the needles. For pines, the needles will bend, not snap. For fir trees, it’s just the opposite, he said, “You want them to snap like a carrot.”

For people owned by cats, keeping Morris out of the tree and from batting the ornaments into oblivion is pretty much impossible. Dog owners, may find themselves in the same situation. Becker doesn’t really have a solution for this. Neither does anyone else.

He recommends the current LED lights for live trees. They give off less heat and use less electricity.

Once Christmas is over, disposing of the tree can be done in a way that benefits the local bird population.

“I put my tree on the ground under the bird feeder,” he said. “That tree will be alive with birds.”

In the spring, the tree can be cut up and composted.

The Becker Tree Farm is located along U.S. Highway 169 at 180th Street. They will be open today from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and on Sunday from noon to 5 p.m.

After that, they accept appointments to come cut a tree.

The land that he grows Christmas trees on isn’t well suited to conventional crops. Some might be concerned that they’re harvesting a tree.

“They wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t a farm,” he said. “They’re also home to a lot of birds and deer.”

Trees are generally priced by height and yes, like everything else, the cost has gone up. More so for the trees shipped in from other states, much less so for the locally grown ones.

Becker has also seen another trend.

“There’s a lot of new houses with vaulted ceilings,” he said. “Were getting a lot more calls for nine, 10, even 12 foot trees. We never had that before except for banks.”

Of course, there’s one option that he would have to create.

The infamous Charlie Brown Christmas tree.

“We haven’t done that, yet,” he said. “We could make one. We do have two or three foot options for people with less space or even for a desk top.”

Those, of course, have all their branches.

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