Selecting, cutting and caring for that perfect tree

I was just too confident.

After so many years of tying twine into umpteen knots up and down the roof bars of my SUV to secure our Christmas tree, last year I thought I’d didn’t need to be so thorough.

Boy was I wrong.

Our tree, which I thought was secure, came loose somewhere along U.S. Route 322 and was thrust over one of the roof bars and dangling over the passenger side of the SUV. We pulled over near the Harley Davidson shop and realized we needed a complete re-twining. (Our oldest, who was then 4, thought the spectacle was hilarious, and she still remembers the thudding sounds the tree made and the panic in Mom and Dad’s voices as we seemingly crawled down Route 322 to another tree farm for some more twine.)

We got the twine, and the tree made it safely to our home in State College. I’d like to forget that day, but soon I know I’ll be staring down the tree, the twine and the car ride home.

My family and many across Centre County soon will head out to the farms in the region to find the perfect tree that will brighten their homes this Christmas season, and the local tree growers shared some tips for choosing and caring for a tree.

Tait Farms has already opened for the season, and Kuhns and Tannenbaum farms open on Black Friday.

If your tradition is to cut your own tree or to get a real tree from a lot, instead of putting up an artificial one, there’s a good chance you already have your favorite tree species in mind when you head out. (In my family, as with many others, we like Fraser firs.)

Fraser firs continue to be popular Christmas trees across the country, and they are the most popular type here, the local tree farmers say.

Fraser firs hold their their needles well, and their branches can sustain heavy ornaments.

Another popular kind of tree available around here is the blue spruce. It sports stiff branches that are good for heavy ornaments. On the downside, spruces don’t hold their needles as well.

The tree farms here will provide you with a saw to harvest your tree if you don’t have one.

As you’re scouring the fields looking for the perfect tree, keep a few things in mind, says Larry Kuhns, of Kuhns Tree Farm.

One, a tree that looks small in the field might be too big in the house. Take a tape measure with you so you can check the height of the tree you select.

And don’t forget to consider a few inches on top for your star, angel, etc., and a few inches on the bottom to account for your tree stand.

Secondly, if you spot some brown needles on the inside, that’s not a big deal, Kuhns says. Those would be the older needles. Now, if you see brown on the outside, that’s one you won’t want.

After you’ve cut a tree down, had it baled, affixed it to the top of your car and gotten it home, the farmers recommend putting it on the stand and giving it some water right away.

“When you cut it, take it in immediately, or do a fresh cut,” says Martha Weidensaul, one of the owners of Tannenbaum Farms.

“Especially in the beginning, be very alert,” she said. “You don’t ever want it to get empty.”

If you can’t get the tree up right away, be sure to give it a fresh cut — about 6 inches off the bottom. Weidensaul says that will open up any pores that were clogged and the tree will start “drinking” water.

If the weather had been wet around the time the tree was cut down, it may not be thirsty, Weidensaul says. And that’s OK.

Now, if you’re like me, and you’re going to make sure the tree is strapped down tightly to your car before you get it home and put it up, here’s a few words of advice.

First off, make sure the tree stump is pointing forward. That’ll keep the wind from ripping through the tree as you drive home.

Knot the twine, route it around the tree to the other side. Do the same for the front and the back, or strap it diagonally.

Above all, don’t be afraid to use the free twine.

“Be generous,” Weidensaul says. “Where two strands would do, use four.”