"People have to pick the size and shape they like," says Jerry Ashway, owner of Pine Haven Christmas Tree Farm in Ft. Loudon, Pa. "If we discuss and describe the features to them, (people) can generally make a decision about what they'd want."
For example, if placement of ornaments is important, tree seekers might consider a blue spruce, which has more room between branches. If color is a deciding factor, they might look at a concolor fir, which can have unusual color variations.
Most of the Christmas trees grown in this region are grown because they hold needles well. There are always exceptions, reminds Ashway, but most trees will fare well indoors for two to three weeks. Concolor firs can be expected to last up to four weeks.
Christmas tree buyers shouldn't be too concerned about diseases afflicting their trees, growers say. Most Christmas tree farms treat trees to keep them disease free. But buyers should keep their eyes open for signs of insect and fungal infection.
"Today, there are so many government inspectors that it's hard to actually get a diseased tree," says Raymond Stagner, owner of Greensburg Farm Market on Virginia Avenue in Hagerstown, which sells retail Christmas trees. However, "if you see a lot of deteriorating limbs at the top, that's something to watch for," he says.
Since trees grow in a natural, outdoor environment, there is always the possibility critters or insects have made their home among evergreen boughs. One particular concern is praying mantis eggs. Praying mantises are known to attach their egg cases to the branches of evergreen trees. The egg case looks like a nut, Ashway says.
Charles Downs, owner of Montpelier Christmas Tree Farm outside of Clear Spring, suggests shaking trees several times before bringing them inside.
"Whatever decides to take up residence in the tree is going to be there," he says.
Here are some additional tips for selecting this year's perfect Christmas tree:
Decide what you are looking for in a tree. Perhaps distance between branches is important to better show off ornaments. Perhaps you prefer a more dense tree. Maybe you need to buy a Christmas tree early this year, so you need one that will last longer. Each tree variety has its own characteristics. Knowing what you're looking for will help make the selection process easier.
Measure, measure, measure. Know how tall you want your tree to be, and make sure to leave a few inches at the top if you are adding a Christmas tree topper, like a star or angel. Don't forget to measure for width, reminds Downs. "Before people choose (a tree), they should be aware of what their space limitations are," he says. Trees often look smaller in the field than they do inside.
Buy fresh trees early. It is true that Christmas tree selections get picked over as the season wears on, Stagner says. "I advise people to get out and get their trees," he says. If buying a live tree from a retailer, try to buy trees that were cut within 10 days, he adds. "Fresh cut will have a longer life in the house," he says.
Look out for signs of disease. It's natural for trees to lose a few needles even when they are fresh cut. However, if a tree has dead branches or seems to be loosing many needles, steer clear, tree growers advise.
Here's a look at some of the more common Christmas tree varieties that can be found at Christmas tree farms and retail lots in the Tri-State area:
Canaan fir - The Canaan fir is a variation of the traditional balsam fir, according to information from the Pennsylvania Christmas Tree Grower's Association.
"It's been a rather successful tree," says Jerry Ashway, owner of Pine Haven Christmas Tree Farm in Ft. Loudon, Pa. "They hold their needles well. The needles are blue to blue-green" in color. The Canaan fir is known for its longer needles and color variety.
Fraser fir - Fraser firs have soft, emerald-green needles with silvery undersides, according to information from the Pennsylvania Christmas Tree Grower's Association Web site. The tree has sturdy branches and retains needles well.
Douglas fir and fraser fir are the most popular Christmas trees because of the longevity of the needles, according to Raymond Stagner of Greensburg Farm Market. "Fraser fir is a heavier stem tree," Stagner says. "In my opinion they hold the ornaments a little bit better."
Douglas fir - Douglas fir trees have long, blue-green needles that retain well. The variety "appears to be" America's standard Christmas tree, says Ashway.
Concolor fir - Concolor trees are perhaps best known for color variety, says Ashway. "A lot of people love the variation of color in Concolor" trees, he says. He has seen the tree vary from deep green to deep blue colors. Generally concolor trees are silvery-blue, with soft, long, flattened needles.
Colorado blue spruce - Colorado blue spruce's stiff branches are ideal for supporting large ornaments. Some people choose the tree when they want to use real candles, says Charles Downs, owner of Montpelier Christmas Tree Farm outside of Clear Spring.
The needles of the blue spruce are silvery blue, stiff and sharp.
White pine - White pine trees are native to the Northeastern United States and have soft, very long needles, creating a "graceful-looking" evergreen tree, according to the Pennsylvania Christmas Tree Grower's Association. The branches are soft and do not support much weight.