Southern Gentleman

Tree Trimming Tips

By Jason Frye

   Nothing sets the tone for Christmas decorating like a real tree.

    Now that Thanksgiving is past us, it’s time to put Christmas in the spotlight and get a tree. Whether you chop one down or buy one pre-cut, by the time you’re finished reading this story you’ll be part lumberjack, ready to whip out your saw to get your tree in shape, and part Martha Stewart, fully capable of expert-level decorating.

Tree Basics

    You can pick up a pre-cut tree from the grocery store, but why not go to the experts? Tree farms throughout the South offer a variety of selections. Merry Christmas Tree Farm, in Nesbit, Mississippi, has a selection of cut-your-own trees as well as pre-cut varieties. They grow Leyland and Blue Sapphire Cypress trees, which you can cut yourself, but they also stock Fraser Fir trees.

    Which one is right for you? Availability plays some part in it, but so does the size. “We like to say our trees grow a little when you get them inside,” says Sharon Hawkins, manager at Merry Christmas Tree Farm. “It’s just a trick of the eye, but trees seem much larger in the house than in the field or on the lot.”

   To avoid buying a tree that’s too big, evaluate your space and find one a couple of feet shorter than your ceiling and a little thinner than you think.

    Once you’ve settled on a tree, look at it from every angle you can and see if the overall shape works for you. If it’s a fit, bag it up and take it home. Bring a blanket or moving pad to prevent the tree from scratching the top of your car or dripping sap on the paint, and be sure to secure the tree in a way that will keep it from flying off like an evergreen missile when you hit the brakes.

    Now that you have your tree, it’s time to shape it up.
    Reevaluate your tree in the space. Are branches sticking out? Is the top ready for your angel? Are the bottom branches high enough for gifts and access to water the tree? Grab your pruners for the smaller branches and a small saw for larger ones and start trimming. Be careful as you can take branches off because you can’t put them back on.

    Among the most important cuts you’ll make is the one at the bottom. Here you’ll want to cut the bottom to allow the tree to suck up water and level it out so it sits properly in your stand.

    Trace Barnett, the Birmingham-based style-setter known as The Bitter Socialite, suggests driving a finishing nail into a nearby wall or piece of trim and securing the tree to the nail with a bit of fishing line, which will help keep the tree upright.

    He also recommends keeping trimmings for wreaths, boughs and sprays, adding to the festive mood in your home.

    In Asheville, North Carolina, the Biltmore Estate puts on a massive Christmas show, with 57 trees in the house and 55 across the estate, and Floral Manager Lizzie Borchers has thoughts on how to decorate with class.

    “You need a mix of ornaments – different sizes, shapes and textures,” she says. By layering your ornaments – larger ones deeper in, smaller ones near the tips of branches – you can play with scale and create more visual interest in your tree. “Large or unexpected items add wow factor,” she adds.

    Borchers also likes ribbon for adding leading lines and color to a tree. “Mind the size and fabric of your ribbon, you don’t want to block your lights,” she says.

Trace Barnett agrees. “Work ribbon in and out of the branches from the top down,” he says, adding that vintage fabric remnants can add a lovely finishing touch.

    Barnett says your lights work best when you wrap the branches next to the trunk and work your way to the tips, creating depth and more interesting light schemes, making your tree really pop.

Keep your decoration scheme simple, sticking to a few colors to tell a coherent story and you’re on your way to a picture-perfect tree.

    Once the holidays have passed, it’s time to do something with that tree. If you snapped up a live tree with an intact root ball, you’ll be planting yours. Where and how depends on the type of tree you bought. Some municipalities accept live trees and plant them in parks and on public land, so ask what your city, town or county offers.

    Some parks and Natural Resources departments accept trees to use in building reefs and cover for fish. Some will pick up trees curbside and others accept trees at a central location, but they all end up in a river or lake where they’ll add to the aquatic ecosystem. Check with your local folks to learn if a program like this exists near your home.

    Parks and recreation departments for cities and counties may take trees, grind them up, and use them for landscaping on public property, or even provide free mulch to the public. Check with local park departments to see if they have programs like  this in place.

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